American Reunion is admittedly a bit of a relief after the cynical and indifferently made American Pie 2 and American Wedding, not to mention the bevy of direct-to-video spinoffs that followed. This fourth theatrical entry, the first since the second to feature every member of the original cast, is well-paced and structured, with a few relatively subtle in-jokes and gags that deliver. It's clear that writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who scripted the vastly superior Harold & Kumar series, legitimately responded to the first American Pie and were invested in making a film that struck a tricky balance between satisfying initial fans of the franchise while hopefully opening it up to a new generation of teens looking for nudity, vignettes of sexual embarrassment, nudity, coming-of-age platitudes, and nudity.
But Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who've previously shown a talent for sharp, tasteless humor, can't transcend this franchise's inherently bland, fuddy-duddy sensibility. The American Pie series, perhaps taking off from the insufferable song that inspired the first film's title, has always had a weirdly repressed subtext. American Reunion, like the other films in the series, is ultimately a celebration of refusing to evolve as a human being. Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols), and Stifler (Seann William Scott) learn the usual lessons during a return to East Great Falls for their 13-year high school reunion. Namely, that their first friends will always be their best and truest ones, and that newcomers, with the exception of a few choice hotties, are generally to be distrusted. In several cases, the best buds also learn that their first love is their truest, and that any sex that isn't primarily characterized by the missionary position is fraught with the potential for embarrassment. These films, excluding a few strategically inserted f-words and cum jokes to distract viewers from the overall squareness of the proceedings, are as preachy and morally tidy as an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.
The conventionality is a particular shame because Hurwitz and Schlossberg occasionally suggest a willingness to venture into darker, funnier territory. Stifler is given a subplot, reminiscent of the best scenes in the Harold & Kumar films, that has him attempting to adjust to a dead-end temp job that subjects him to the routinely emasculating whims of a superior roughly his age. These scenes, which Scott performs with timing that out-classes everything else in the movie, threaten to actually mine the bitterness, doubt, and terror that come with the realization that you're 30 and you still haven't done too much with your life. Hurwitz and Schlossberg have made as good an American Pie sequel as anyone probably could without deviating from the formula, but they deserve material that allows them to indulge their wilder instincts.
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American Reunion is one of the better looking films in the American Pie series, balancing a well-produced gloss that's characteristic of Universal's contemporary tent-pole comedies with a graininess that honors the films' roots in '80s teen sex comedies. The image is sharp with the colors in proper contrast, but it hasn't been cleaned up too much for the sake of a pristine Blu-ray perfection that would be at odds with the modesty of the movie. The sound mix is well-produced, most notably offering the necessary dimension to the film's frequent party scenes.
The audio commentary with co-directors/co-writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg manages to cover every facet of the film's conception and production without succumbing to tedium. The filmmakers are affectionate, conversational, and clearly took the American Reunion assignment quite seriously. Despite the laundry list of other features that the packaging boasts, most of the remaining extras are quick three- or four-minute mini-films that primarily afford the cast and crew the opportunity to praise one another for the sake of promotion. "Jim's Dad," "The Best of Biggs: Hangin' with Jason B.," and "Dancing with the Oz" are all similarly pointless tributes to the chosen actor's wonderfulness, while "Lake Bake," "American Gonad-iators: The Fight Scene," and others briefly and shallowly cover the staging of the film's big set pieces. The deleted and extended scenes, which together comprise a surprisingly prolonged 40 minutes, are a typical collection of the routine nip/tucks that directors make to hone a film's running time.
Fans of the American Pie series should be pleased with the fidelity and care that the makers of American Reunion have taken in resuscitating the franchise. Everyone else can safely skip it.