Adulthood has not been kind to Steve Stifler. Was it really 13 years ago when we first met Stifler, Jim Levenstein, Paul Finch, Chris Ostreicher and Kevin Myers in American Pie? I’m afraid it was and so now it is time for American Reunion, the fourth installment of the series, to hit theaters (I am not including the direct-to-dumpster DVDs that bear the franchise’s name as part of the group). I have to admit two things: American Reunion has no real purpose in being a movie as it relies so heavily on the previous material, and that I laughed quite a bit just the same. Oftentimes babies will demand that an activity is repeated for their benefit, say, a peekaboo routine or the jangling of keys. It is not important to the baby that anything new is added to the key jangling the third, fourth, or twelfth time, and such it is with American Pie and its fans.
The story follows the return of Jim, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Oz (Chris Klien) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) to their Michigan hometown bizarrely for their 13-year class reunion. Jim is still married to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), the girl from band camp, and they have a two-year-old, the arrival of which has impeded their sex life. Kevin is married too, Finch is a mysterious adventurer, and Oz is a sportscaster and reality dance show contestant who brings along his sexy but wild girlfriend (Katrina Bowden). Jim and Michelle stay with Jim’s father (Eugene Levy), still courageously willing to discuss any number of sexual topics with his son whether Jim wants to or not. During the long weekend they are joined by Stifler (Seann William Scott) who is looking at the reunion as a chance to turn back the clock and be on top of the world again, as he was in high school. Unfortunately for Stifler, that’s not going to be possible. It seems that in your 30s people aren’t willing to drink all night anymore. They don’t respect you just because you’re bigger than they are, and they certainly don’t like it when you think of them as “the mouth that got away,” as we find out when the Stifmeister is reunited with a former flame. Look at his confused frustration when he discovers that one of his once-legendary wild parties have devolved into a collection of well-dressed adults talking to each other over glasses of wine. He cries to the heavens while wearing a t-shirt that reads “Orgasm Donor.”
In real life, Stifler would be a pathetic character and a grown-up movie would make a monsterish warning out of him. American Reunion is not prepared to make that difficult leap and it is better for it. Stifler is the driving comic force in the movie. None of the other plot lines work and are unfunny distractions. Many of the series’ characters are brought back for cameos and are given little to nothing to do (Mena Suvari and Tara Reid are the most wasted, but Shannon Elizabeth, reprising Nadia the foreign sexpot from a country that doesn’t exist, is always underserved by the limits of her character and is given the right treatment here). Still, because of the endearing qualities of the first movie (and the fact that most of the cast is principally known for the roles they play here), American Reunion achieves a kind of nostalgia that is kind of nice.
Not nice enough to make for a whole movie, but that’s where Stifler comes in and generates 90 percent of the laughs. Look at the intensity of the stupidity on Seann William Scott’s face. This is a man with no filter, no self-awareness, no sense of decency and every profanity-laced line is sold completely. You believe him when he grabs Jim’s dad and says “I know what I’ll do. … I’m going to get you fucked up!” To talk about what Seann William Scott does in the same way one talks about what Olivier did seems weird, but I know one thing for sure, Olivier couldn’t have played Stifler. It is absolutely essential that we laugh with him and that’s a tough trick when you consider that Stifler’s defining characteristic is that he is distasteful. American Reunion pays lip service to the lesson that if you don’t grow up you might end up like the empty Stifler, but then it gives him two gloriously immature bits of revenge; one involves a group of high school kids and a cooler, which includes a hilariously unnecessary whisper, and another settles a 13-year-old score that I dare not reveal.
American Reunion does have some non-Stifler highlights but not enough (I enjoyed some of the self-referential humor. John Cho, who is listed in the credits as “MILF Guy #2” and is famous for popularizing that term, is asked by a classmate that might presumably know the man’s name, “Uh, so where’s the other MILF Guy?”). Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan are very sweet and Biggs is, as always, a good sport while being abased time and time again, but I’ve already mostly forgotten the other American Pie sequels and this one doesn’t add anything new to the series either. Oh, well, it’s a movie that stars the cinema’s most preeminent adult baby in Steve Stifler; perhaps its just as well that it’s not much more than jangling keys for the fourth time.