(Netflix Streaming, March 2017) Direct-to-video American Pie series spinoff Band Camp is not what we’d call good … but it does follow the basic elements of the series from which it’s inspired. Tad Hilgenbrink turns in a Stifleresque performance as, indeed, Stifler’s younger brother, proving just as mischievous as his role model and ending in Band Camp as punishment. What follows is a typically neutered version of an American sex comedy: heavy on juvenilia and humiliation, low on actual nudity or eroticism. It’s crude and innocuous at once, happy to wallow in low jokes and idiot plotting. As background noise while doing other work, it’s almost perfect—you just need to perk up once in a while whenever Eugene Levy shows up as a camp counselor or whenever something funny threatens to happen (it seldom does, but it’s important to give the film a chance). It may or may not be noteworthy to remark that twelve years after its release, you practically can’t find any known name in the cast—for all that I liked of Crystle Lightning’s presentation as an uncommon ideal of beauty, much of the film’s cast has since, at best, peaked in TV shows. But such is the life of a direct-to-video film—Band Camp wouldn’t have a tenth of its current awareness had it not been branded as part of the American Pie series. One the flip side, I’ve seen much, much worse before.
(On DVD, May 2016) To its credit, this sequel to American Pie doesn’t take the easy way out of trying to do the same thing in college. Surprisingly enough, it returns to the same characters one year later and follows them as not much has changed in the interim. The action eventually moves to a beach house for even more rowdy fun, the same comedy engines powering this follow-up: one string of humiliation comic set pieces after another. (The fake-lesbian sequence is probably the film’s highlight, and it does manage a nice balance between lust and laughs.) Stifler’s back in an expanded role, Stifler’s mom’s return is highly anticipated, but most of the characters are back with various things to do. The standout actors are pretty much the same: Jason Biggs as the hapless protagonist, Eugene Levy as a well-meaning dad, Seann William Scott as the life of the parties. American Pie 2 isn’t quite as fresh as the first film, but it offers more of the same pleasures without too much fuss along the way.
(On DVD, May 2016) Everyone has their list of movies that other people can’t believe they haven’t seen (“What, you haven’t seen Star Wars?!?”) and American Pie was high on mine. For years, I thought I didn’t need to see the film because I felt as if I had seen it all already: Hadn’t I heard enough pop-culture references, suffered through endless imitators? But there’s no substitute for the actual experience of watching the film itself, especially given how it still has a charm that has eluded many of its copycats. It remains one of the definitive teenage sex comedies of the past few decades, focusing on the pursuit of sex as a rite of passage, and the conclusion that it’s not that important compared to love. Despite then-cutting-edge Internet jokes (early streaming humour!), it has aged surprisingly well, largely because it’s so heartfelt. The structure is squarely built on embarrassment set pieces, with comic sequences strung one after another within a solid but unspectacular plot. I am far away from the target audience for this film now, but it’s refreshingly free of smirking in how it treats its characters. Despite being male-centric, American Pie isn’t cruel to its female characters—in fact, the males usually take up the brunt of the humiliation, while the women are too smart to embarrass themselves. Standout performances include Sean William Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs as the much-humiliated protagonist. Surprisingly enough, many of the pop-culture references about the film actually concern bits that took bigger importance in the sequels: I’m particularly thinking about Stifler’s character and his mom, not to mention Alyson Hannigan’s quasi-cameo considering her role in latter movies. (The MILF thing is the MILF thing, though, even though I was surprised to be reminded that John Cho is the one who made it mainstream.) Still, even more than fifteen years later, American Pie holds up relatively well … as long as you can stand the sex = humiliation comedy equation.