Posted: 08/10/2001

 

American Pie 2

(2001)

by Jon Bastian



A second helping that tastes just as good as the first.


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The original American Pie (1999) was something of a surprise crossover hit. A raunchy teen comedy with a heart and a point, it had two things going for it. First, it was a teen sex comedy in which the teens actually had sex and, face it, what other reason is there to see a teen sex comedy? Second, though, and what set it apart from its predecessors and imitators, is that there was actually a message to it all. Our four heroes set out to get laid by graduation, thinking this will make them men. Yes, they all get laid by the deadline, but they also learn that becoming a man has nothing to do with using the hardware. It’s in mastering the software.

American Pie 2 picks up one year later, after our four leads have finished their freshman years in college, returning home for a summer that, they hope, will be just like their high school years together. Whereas the first film was about chasing some elusive future goal, the sequel is about chasing after some illusionary past. That and many hilarious set pieces involving bodily fluids, musical instruments, sexual discovery, random embarrassments and the like. Unlike most sequels of major hits, though, American Pie 2 manages to be just as good as its predecessor without feeling like one, long obligatory “greatest hits” reel, repeating the same jokes. In fact, nobody humps any pastries this time around. The sequel stands on its own, although if you’ve seen the first film and are familiar with its characters, it just makes part two all the more enjoyable.

We’re reintroduced to our principals in short order, as Jim (Jason Biggs, Saving Silverman) has a moment of no strings good-bye sex interrupted and ruined by his well-meaning but clueless father (Euguene Levy, Josie and the Pussycats). Meanwhile, Oz (Chris Klein, Election) and Stifler (Seann William Scott, Dude, Where’s My Car?) have spent freshman year together, Stifler amusing himself by peeking up girl’s skirts in lecture hall, Oz vowing to remain faithful to his girl back home, Heather (Mena Suvari, American Beauty) — even as she’s preparing to leave for a summer study program in Europe. Ironically, this time around it’s Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, Party of Five) who is now single, having had an amicable but not quite complete break-up with his love interest of the first film, Vicky (Tara Reid, The Big Lebowski). Finally, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, Freddie Got Fingered) has spent a semester becoming completely immersed in ways Japanese thanks to an obsession with a female student from that country.

The four reunite at Dog Years, reminiscing about the old days of a year ago, then attend yet another wild Stifler party in which most of the minor players from the first film make an appearance, and in which Stifler samples a quite different tainted beverage than the first time around. As Finch rediscovers his obsession for Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge, Legally Blonde), the cops shut down the party and our four friends’ recreated high school days seemingly come to an end. That is, until Kevin’s brother (Casey Affleck, the upcoming Joy Ride) once again gives fraternal advice that sets the stage for the rest of the film. He tells Kevin that, after his freshman year, he and his friends rented out a house at the lake, ending the summer with a wild party that has become legendary. Kevin resolves to do the same thing. Soon thereafter, he, Jim, Oz, Finch and Stifler take off for their “summer of love,” and the movie takes off with it.

If there’s any weakness to American Pie 2, it’s that the story lacks the strong focus of the original. The first time around, our heroes had a single goal. Sex. This time, they don’t have any particular goal, which doesn’t give us a target toward which everything is inevitably rushing. However, I could argue that their lack of a specific future goal is part of the point, and so it’s not as big a dramatic problem as it would otherwise be. And, goal aside, each of them does have their particular obsession, and it’s the chasing after each of these that gives the majority of the story its drive and its hilarious complications. When Jim finds out that Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth, Scary Movie) is coming to see him he obsesses over whether he’s actually any good at sex. To find out, he hunts down Michelle (Alyson Hannigan, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), who is, luckily for us, at band camp. When she confirms his worst nightmares — no, he’s pretty lousy in the sack — he enlists her aid as a tutor. If you thought that Michelle’s use for a flute was pretty unusual in the first film, wait until you see what she does with a trumpet here. (And if you never saw the first film, there’s also an hilarious clarinet reference that’ll fly right over your head.)

Finch, meanwhile, gets the impression that Stifler’s Mom is on her way to visit, and races headlong into a typically Finchian obsession over mastering Tantra, a form of yoga and meditation meant to prolong sexual ecstasy to impossible lengths. At the same time, Oz isn’t getting any sexual ecstasy, determined to be totally faithful to Heather, Kevin can’t really let go of Vicki because he’s not sure she’s let go of him, and Stifler is, well, just Stifler.

In their second outing, the cast has really settled well into their roles. All five of our leads are perfectly matched to their characters. Hannigan, who gets a lot more to do this time around, is hilarious as the band geek who knows every trick in the book — and some that haven’t been published anywhere. Thomas also hits the right notes as the preternaturally weird yet strangely self-confident Finch. Natasha Lyonne (The Slums of Beverly Hills), in not much more than a cameo, shows us that there are also female Stiflers out there. And we even get a sort of mini-Stifler, as his little brother (Eli Marienthal, The Slums of Beverly Hills), crashes the party, every bit as crass and single-minded as his older sibling.

As with the first film, a lot of bits and pieces here do double duty, with the payoff to one joke actually also being a set-up for another. It’s more than a little unfortunate that a couple of those jokes are totally given away by the trailer. I suppose the “Lesbians” scene would be much funnier if we didn’t know where it was going, but thanks to the marketing morons at Universal, we do, and it blunts the humor, although it still manages to be one of the most hilarious extended set-pieces in the movie. We also know about a little masturbatory mishap that befalls Jim. Luckily, both sequences go beyond what’s been handed to us, but if you don’t happen to know yet what I’m talking about, try to avoid the commercials and trailers until you see the film.

And you should see the film, especially if you were a fan of the first. Once again, writer Adam Herz brings us plenty of laughs, lots of raunch and more life lessons for his characters. He even gives a couple of them who were royally screwed in the first film some nice (and unexpected) compensatory happiness here. A couple of the couplings that happen by the end should be totally unexpected, and yet they make absolute sense in the context of both films.

It’s a rare sequel that makes me hope there’s another, but American Pie 2 is one of them. Provided Adam Herz can continue to hit the tricky tone that he’s managed to pull off twice, I’ll be happy to shell out for more pieces of this pie.

Jon Bastian is a film, television and stage writer who lives in his native Los Angeles. With the release of American Pie 2, he officially forgives Jason Biggs for Loser and Boys and Girls.



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