There’s no pastry in sight in “American Pie 2,” but otherwise, the second serving is — not surprisingly — identical to the first. Less a movie than another efficient moneymaking machine for Universal Pictures, pic takes up the comedy saga of five hormonally obsessed buddies’ ongoing sexual education as they finish their freshman year in college. Repetition is what “Pie” fans want, and what they get, but a shrewd commercial strategy begets — unlike, for example, “Rush Hour 2” — a remarkably boring comedy. Nonetheless, the just-established August B.O. record by the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker hit could immediately fall as this franchise, with an R rating or not, continues to roll on, and on, and on, until these kids finally grow up.
Adam Herz’s new script is like a schematic drawing in which you can trace the direct links between the, so to speak, highlights of the first movie and the second. Instead of a pie, Jason Biggs’ nervous-in-the-sack Jim now gets super adhesive glue. Instead of sex play broadcast over the Internet, it’s now broadcast over walkie-talkie radios.
And instead of Eugene Levy as Jim’s well-meaning but hopelessly square dad walking in on Jim pleasuring himself, he now walks in on Jim doing it with a gal in his dorm room. This opening scene has already been made so familiar by the mass-saturated theatrical and TV trailers that its effect is worn down to the nub.
Director J.B. Rogers seems to have studied the first film, for which he did the a.d. chores, with religious devotion: His camera moves and placements are as obediently plain-wrap in style as the previous pic, and it seems that much of the early party scene hosted by wild man Stifler (Seann William Scott) is shot-for-shot identical to the Stifler party scene in the original “Pie.”
Jim and the guys — Stifler, Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) — may say that they feel a year older, but they don’t look like it. After Stifler gets a dose of urine rather than the champagne spritzes he was expecting, his noisy shindig is shut down by cops. These party animals have to look elsewhere for a pad, and Kevin’s older brother (Casey Affleck) has just the place: A lovely gabled Michigan lakeside home.
Ensconced in the great digs for the summer, the guys take on house-painting to pay the rent. Jim has received a call from Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) saying that she’ll be visiting him later in the summer, and already he’s worked up about it. Oz has had to say goodbye to Heather (Mena Suvari), who’s off to a travel study project in Barcelona. Finch’s recent adventures with Asian women have gotten him deeply into Eastern meditation and sexual practice, a rich font of possible comedy that the movie oddly never knows quite what to do with. Kevin’s encounter with ex-g.f. Vicky (Tara Reid) is, notes always-removed observer Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), “as comfortable as a high colonic in Tijuana.”
Jim, as before, gets most of the long comedy scenes. To restore his nerve for seeing Nadia and get love advice, he hunts down his high school prom date and chirpy flautist Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), who’s studying at the Tall Oaks band camp. He ends up, in as hamfisted a comic bit as anything this summer, performing on trumpet to an outdoor amphitheater audience.
Later, in a pallid knockoff of Ben Stiller’s spectacularly painful bathroom scene in “There’s Something About Mary,” Jim grabs the glue rather than the lube for some solo bedtime action.
In a scene so infinitely long that Jim must actually share screen time with others, Stifler is sure that the occupants of the house they’re painting are lesbians. Always led by what’s below the belt, he busts into their place to check out the love den, with Jim and Finch joining him. They’re caught, though, when the women (Denise Faye, Lisa Arturo) return.
For all of “Pie’s” reputed raunch, it’s amazing to notice what business it shies away from this time, as if it were as ratings-phobic as its PG-13 competition. The setup for some hairy stuff is all there when Jim, whose privates are swollen from his one-night-stand with the glue, discovers that Nadia has arrived early. Nothing really happens: His package is healed, and his heart isn’t really with Nadia anymore, but with Michelle, whom he recognizes as a fellow nerd.
Not even a last-minute arrival by Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge, in an uncredited cameo) can heat up the pic, though it does wonders for the grateful Finch.
Part of the softness comes from a lack of genuine testosterone-driven energy by the central male ensemble, led by Biggs, who is not getting any funnier with each lead role. Though he may provide a sort of likable, innocent rooting interest in contrast to the subhuman Stifler, Biggs tends to confuse being charming with being pathetic. He’s the face of today’s young American male insecurity, and it’s not pretty.
Thomas emerges out of the crowd with the same droll style he showed before, with more screen time for the sequel. That’s also true for Haningan, who has one of the goofiest faces in movies since Louise Lasser and certainly has no match in this ensemble for original comic chops.
Circulating, as usual, in his own parental universe, Levy briefly reprises his shtick. The rest of the cast fades into the wallpaper of the summer house, nicely designed by Richard Toyon.
Pic is technically a clone of the first, lensed as bright and as flat as possible. Once again, too, the soundtrack is generally a train of the bland pop-punk song leading the bland.