Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

American Wedding’ consummates series

(R) ***

July 31, 2003

You would think that Jim Levinstein (Jason Biggs) would be
humiliation-proof by now.

On his way to sexual enlightenment, he's suffered about as much as
one Jewish kid from Michigan can.
"These things KEEP happening to me," he says in "American Wedding,"
resigned to the mounting indignities.

What's impressive about this lively sequel is that it goes beyond the
type of social humiliation one might experience in his worst high
school ordeals to the deeper, emotional kind potentially encountered
as a post-grad. This is a world of wedding ring nightmares, in-law
misunderstandings and bachelor parties gone remarkably wrong.

When your fiancee's parents believe you're "some ungrateful dog
rapist," you know it's going to be a painful engagement.

While not quite as fresh as the original 1999 effort that
resuscitated the raunchy teen comedy trend, "American Wedding" is
significantly better than its predecessor "American Pie 2." Sure,
it's vulgar and episodic, but it's relentlessly funny also. Most
admirably, it all builds up to a genuinely sweet conclusion.
"American Wedding" picks up after the gang's graduation from college.
Jim has proposed to his band-geek girlfriend Michelle (Alyson
Hannigan), and the two begin planning their nuptials.

NYU-educated buddy Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and pre-law pal Kevin
(Thomas Ian Nicholas) lend their support as Jim's groomsmen. But much
to their chagrin, the obnoxious Stifler (Seann William Scott) - now a
high school football coach - is miffed at not being invited to the
festivities and tries to weasel his way into the wedding party.

Eventually, Michelle's snooty parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush)
and younger sister Cadence (January Jones) arrive in town. The comely
Cadence draws the attentions of Stifler and Finch, who'll go to any
lengths to outdo each other in winning her favor.

During a summer where extraneous sequels sprout faster than Hydra
heads, there are plenty of examples that prove how difficult it is to
keep an ongoing series fresh. Writer/creator Adam Herz doesn't try
reinventing the formula so much as perfecting the template he's
already established, which usually involves public shame and male
one-upmanship as the main springboards for comedy.

Another strength of the movie is Herz's sensible omissions.

The "American Pie" pictures were almost too concerned with giving the
large ensemble equal time. Rather than trying to force-feed a bunch
of strays into a fairly minimal plot, Herz streamlines the affair.
Previous "Pie" characters played by Tara Reid, Chris Klein, Natasha
Lyonne and Mena Suvari are not even mentioned.

Of the cast that endures, Biggs, Hannigan and the treasured Eugene
Levy (as Jim's dad) are reliable as always. The real surprise,
however, is Scott.

On a recent talk show appearance, Scott revealed he was initially
paid only $1,500 for his work as Stifler in "American Pie." Moving
from eighth billed then to second billed now, he more than earns his
multimillion dollar paycheck. The actor injects enough manic energy
into the role to rival Jim Carrey. Even during the movie's weakest
moments (a dance at a gay bar that goes on way too long) and cheapest
gags (dog poopy, anyone?), Scott attacks these scenes rather than
merely performs them.

The 26-year-old star has proven he can headline a feature, even if
"Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Bulletproof Monk" weren't exactly
masterpieces. So if ever there was an excuse to keep this comedic
franchise going, it lies with Scott.

Imagine the possibilities of "American Pie 4: Stifler's Wedding."

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