(On DVD, May 2016) Thirteen years after the original American Pie, the goal was to bring back nearly everyone associated with the series for one last (?) bash. Wisely embracing its entire cast of characters, American Reunion goes back to high school (sort of) to bring back everyone for a summer reunion. Some stuff seems out of place, such as a curiously vicious feud between our protagonist and some lunkheads, but in other ways American Reunion does make a more conscious attempt at recapturing the original. Interestingly enough, it does so in a context where it acknowledges the evolution of its characters, showing them married and mature while still hanging on to some of their initial wildness. Sequels that acknowledge the time between their instalments tend to carry more poignancy that those who don’t, and it’s this heartfelt sentiment that excuses some of American Reunion’s less compelling moments. Perhaps fittingly for the series, Seann William Scott’s Stifler is now a full-fledged member of the main cast, and he gets a victory of sorts in the series-old MILF feud. American Reunion isn’t at the same level as the first film or arguably the second, but it’s well handled enough to bring some joy still.
(On DVD, May 2016) This third entry in the theatrical American Pie series deviates from the first two in at least two fundamental aspects, one good and the other not-so good. On the good side, it does try to make its characters grow up: Our series protagonist is now ready to marry his high-school sweetheart, and much of the movie repurposes the good old humiliation-comedy framework of the series to the wedding shenanigans. It works, and provides a nice sense of continuity and meaning to the series. More puzzlingly, the film chooses to focus on a subset of characters and a scope that seems far more narrowly focused. It simply seems as if something is missing. It doesn’t help that Stiffler’s been promoted to a lead character and that he seems to be made even more obnoxious early on to justify his eventual redemption. His final screw-up is so contrived as to defy explanation. Still, there’s some good work here by Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott, a few capable set pieces (the gay-bar sequence works well, for whatever reason) and the spirit of the series carries forward even in a more limited scope. I’ll say one thing, though: American Wedding is now partially redeemed by the existence of a fourth entry (American Reunion) that returns more closely to the roots of the series rather than letting it end on such a limited note.
(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 TV, August 2015) My memories of the original Dukes of Hazard TV show are dim enough that there was no chance that a remake would offend me. Early on, The Dukes of Hazard does get to (re)establish its premise: Redneck humor, Southern-US rural charm, that iconic Dodge Charger, those voiceovers still frames… it doesn’t take much for the film to fall into kind of dumb charm, something helped along quickly by Seann William Scott’s sweetly likable performance as a soft-witted young mechanic well on his way to becoming a good-ole-boy. (Meanwhile, Johnny Knoxville is unremarkable in the other lead role.) The Dukes of Hazzard, big-screen version, does get a lot of mileage out of its own charm, but the effect gets a bit dulled as it becomes clear that the film won’t have as many car stunts as the premise would imply, and once the dumb corn-fed humor of the film becomes less surprising. The conclusion feels underwhelming, although it consciously tries to feed the comic assumptions of the viewers. So is it as good as it could have been? Certainly not. Is it watchable? I’d say so. Whether one outweighs the other is something that viewers will have to decide by themselves.
(On TV, February 2015) It’s obvious that Role Models doesn’t try to do anything new; beyond the surface of a crude comedy in which irresponsible men get to mentor impressionable teenagers, much of the film is bog-down standard Hollywood sweetness and conventional values in rude gift-wrapping. (As with most movies in that mold, the irreverent first act gradually leads to a far more sentimental conclusion.) At least the film doesn’t err in featuring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott in roles well-suited to their comic personas and letting them play off each other. Jane Lynch and Ken Jeong have smaller but striking roles. Much of the film’s interest is in the small set-pieces, or the unusual emphasis on Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) as a sub-setting. There’s not a whole lot more to say about the film because it’s so familiar: Playing with genre formula to the hilt, Role Models at least has the advantage of executing said formula competently, with enough laughs on the way to a satisfyingly conventional conclusion. It’s watchable enough.
(On Cable TV, August 2013) What could be more Canadian than a comedy about hockey? Here, Seann William Scott turns in one of his best performances as Doug, a somewhat dim-witted bouncer who unexpectedly proves to be a more-than-competent hockey enforcer. The role of goons in hockey isn’t glamorous –essentially, they’re there to protect more talented players or to target opposing players–, making Goon’s frequently sweet-natured off-ice atmosphere seem all the more remarkable. While the film doesn’t shy away from bloody violence, Scott’s performance as Doug (a really nice guy who just happens to be good at fighting) is enough to balance the excessively profane comedy most frequently mouthed by co-writer Jay Baruchel. Goon is relatively well-shot, decently scripted (especially in the details) and benefits greatly from Liev Shreiber’s late-film appearance as a veteran goon. While the ending is abrupt, the romance less than convincing and some of the profanity/gore is excessive, Goon remains a bit of a pleasant surprise, and something that Canadians won’t be too embarrassed about.
(In theatres, March 2010) The most profound irony about Cop Out, as directed by Kevin Smith from someone else’s script, is that the film’s direction is quite a bit better than its screenplay. This should surprise Smith fans: after all, hasn’t it been a trademark of his movies that their writing frequently rises above their often-pedestrian direction? Here, through, Smith has a budget and presumably the time to present a more visually ambitious vision. Alas, the script just isn’t there: As a pair of policemen bumble their way through a dull storyline involving Latin gangsters in Brooklyn, Bruce Willis does well as the veteran leader of the pair but I remain unconvinced by Tracy Morgan’s comedic style. Worse, though, is the script’s fondness for police intimidation as a plot driver: in Cop Out’s reality, it’s hilarious for heroes to jam pistols and tattoo needles in civilians’ face to extract information. As for the rest of the film, it’s more miss than hit. Seann William Scott has an intriguing character that’s played for senseless giggles. Other characters come and go, with a dramatic plot heavy-handedly jammed in the middle of the comedy. There’s a noticeable lack of flow to the proceedings, and the spot-the-references-to-eighties-action-movies game quickly grows tiresome. For a comedy, Cop Out has a noticeable lack of laughs: even what is supposed to be amusing just feels dumb. On the other hand, the direction feels undistinguishable from most cookie-cutter cop comedies, which marks a step up for Smith. He’s still not doing it well, but at least it’s not as blatantly bad as in his first few films. Hopefully it’s a lucrative enough project that he’ll be able to work on something else soon. Still, even in mercenary work-for-hire projects, he may want to pick material that’s stronger than Jersey Girl.