Nearly every scene in “American Reunion” is slathered in something warm and gooey — namely, nostalgia. Thirteen years out of high school, the “Pie” guys are hitting their 30s in a mellower, more reflective mood, with plenty of downtime between horny hijinks to remember the good ol’ days. But while it’s poignant seeing the whole gang again, the tired gross-out antics and limp romantic reprisals keep this hapless if heartfelt effort from qualifying as a decent comedy, let alone a generational classic. Sans big laughs or even mild outrage, the pic has sentimental value but won’t score as aggressively as its predecessors.
Having tied the knot in 2003’s “American Wedding,” Jim and Michelle Levenstein (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) now have a toddler son and a reasonably stable life together. But their sex life has fallen into a rut, as seen in a prologue that begins with one of the franchise’s signature self-gratification gags and unexpectedly morphs into a ruefully honest look at marital frustration. It’s a promising start for a movie that, as written and directed by series newcomers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, means to examine its characters’ various stages of discontent as they head home for their high-school reunion.
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Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), sporting a hipster goatee, is happily wed, but finds his thoughts drifting on occasion to his ex, Vicky (Tara Reid). Chris Ostreicher, aka Oz (Chris Klein), is a TV personality with a wildly sexy g.f. (Katrina Bowden), but he’s starting to realize the downsides of fame and fortune. Cultured, adventurous Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) shows up on a badass motorcycle with tales of crazy bohemian travels abroad. Last and never least, Stifler (Seann William Scott) is stuck in a lowly temp job, though a suit and tie haven’t curbed his juvenile horndog tendencies one bit.
And so old friends are reunited, familiar stomping grounds revisited and past relationships promisingly rekindled, particularly in the case of Oz and high-school sweetheart Heather (Mena Suvari). Along the way, the guys keep running into teenagers who seem far more immature and sexually voracious than they did at that age, or so they’d like to think. At times, the pic evokes the sense of social disorientation that arises when tail-end Gen Xers realize Gen Y has passed them by: In an era when kids think nothing of swapping nude self-portraits online, that naughty video encounter between Jim and Czech exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) in “American Pie,” mentioned several times here, seems almost quaint by comparison.
Given that the 1999 original worked as a crude-but-endearing corrective to the likes of “Porky’s,” the gently bittersweet tone suffusing this labor-of-love project (Biggs and Scott exec produced) is neither inappropriate nor unwelcome. There are modest delights to be had in “American Reunion,” not least the sight of these still-winning but no longer fresh-faced actors, many of whom have been absent from the bigscreen for lengthy stretches, gamely returning for duty. From moment to moment, it’s easy enough to tune out the forgettable plot turns and simply groove on the soundtrack’s numerous ’90s soft-rock touchstones, like the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” and Supersonic’s “Closing Time,” which prove immediately transporting.
But these are glancing, incidental pleasures, and they’re almost completely divorced from a repetitive, overworked screenplay that proves rather less mature and evolved than its characters. With the singular exception of Stifler, these blandly likable guys are thinking adults who have long since realized life isn’t a teen sex comedy, something the pic itself sometimes acknowledges when it’s not piling on gags involving public defecation and fetish gear.
As always, the perpetually horny but dependably virtuous Jim must be subjected to all manner of strained humiliations, this time involving a nubile girl-next-door (Ali Cobrin) he used to babysit. In accordance with recent lowbrow-comedy trends, Biggs, after years of consistently dropping his drawers, goes fearlessly full-frontal in a scene that will likely provide a major selling point. On a duller note, the relational complications between Kevin and Vicky, Oz and Heather, and Finch and band-nerd-turned-hottie Selena (Dania Ramirez) play out at snooze-inducing length during the reunion-night climax.
Indeed, at 112 minutes, “Reunion” is easily the series’ longest entry, largely because it feels the need to cross-reference and embellish anything even remotely memorable from the prior three films. Scenes with Eugene Levy as Jim’s lovably squirm-inducing dad or Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s randy mom represent time well spent; a shot of some guys repeatedly screaming “MILF!” on a football field, not so much.
Helmers Hurwitz and Schlossberg don’t impose much personal stamp on the proceedings apart from making a few “Harold & Kumar” in-jokes, mainly by giving John Cho a few more lines and reaction shots this time around. Despite the pic’s “Save the best piece for last” tagline, the ending does not dismiss the possibility of future sequels.