American Reunion


Stifler's mom and Jim's dd - now why didn't I think of that?

Stifler’s mom and Jim’s dd – now why didn’t I think of that?

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, John Cho, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Ali Cobrin, Chris Owen, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlene Amoia. Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

When we’re in high school, we are different people than we are as adults. We lack the life experiences that we gain as adults so we look back at ourselves back then and cringe, generally speaking, at how awkward and naive we were. Still, most of us tend to look back at our time back then with some nostalgia – in our ignorance we are kings of the world with everything we could possibly desire still stretched out before us. Perhaps this is why reunions are such big business.

The gang at East Great Falls High are getting together for their 13th reunion – apparently they’re a bit fuzzy on the concept – and some of the boys are getting a head start on the festivities. Jim (Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) are married with a two-year-old son who takes up all of their time, leaving none for romance and (especially) sex. Jim’s dad (Levy) is a widower and hasn’t quite gotten over the passing of his wife.

Oz (Klein) is a sportscaster on a 24-hour sports network who famously had a meltdown on a Dancing With the Stars-like show. His relationship with his girlfriend is strained and he is suddenly brought face to face with just how hot Vicky (Reid) still is and that the torch he has held for her still burns brightly.

Kevin (Nichols) is a somewhat emasculated house-husband whose wife Ellie (Amoia) has essentially turned him into a shell of his former self – which isn’t exactly what she had in mind. Finch (Thomas) has managed to get out of East Great Falls and gone on a series of adventures in South America which makes his mates just a little bit jealous of the freedom that he still has in his life.

The one person not invited to their mini-reunion is Stifler (Scott) who has a crap job at a securities firm for a douchebag he can’t stand, but in all other ways he is still the same Stifler they all know and love – which is precisely why he wasn’t invited. His penchant for getting them into trouble is exactly what they don’t need as adults with their responsibilities spelled out.

In a bit of an uncomfortable twist, Jim’s next door neighbor Kara (Cobrin) whom he used to babysit for has just turned 18 and filled out rather nicely. She’s always had a thing for her babysitter (who hasn’t) and has decided that his return to town affords her the excellent opportunity to fulfill her own bucket list dream – to have Jim be the one to take her virginity.

None of them are the same people they were in high school and yet all of them have those people buried deep inside them. As the weekend goes on, they are forced to deal with the changes that growing up has wrought in their lives and struggle to find the bonds that tied them together in the first place. Still, those bond are strong and perhaps nothing can’t be solved when you have a dish of American Pie for desert.

Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who co-wrote and helmed the Harold and Kumar trilogy (and perform the same duties here) manage to capture much of the essential elements that made the first American Pie films work – the genuine bonds between the characters that have been made even more unbreakable by the passage of time.

While the first films were raunchy comedies about teens feeling their way through the minefield of sexuality with often varying results, this is a different kind of rite of passage. Having had the privilege of attending my own high school reunion earlier this summer, I’m perhaps in a more sanguine frame of mind when it comes to reviewing a movie about the subject – I get the nostalgia and the warm glow that comes from it. We tend to look back with rose colored glasses to a certain extent, glossing over the monotony of homework, the agony of broken hearts (and nothing is quite so unbearable as unrequited teenage love or worse, a broken teen romance) and the chafing against parental authority. Instead, we tend to focus on the friendships, the good times, the epic failures that were nevertheless noble for their audacity, and what it all meant.

Seeing this is a bit like a reunion for those who had a fondness for the first movie or its two sequels (there were four direct-to-video sequels but they featured essentially completely different casts). Most of the actors in it have gone on to careers with varying degrees of success but we can recall the characters pretty clearly particularly as introduced here. The actors seem to have developed bonds of their own for each other – the chemistry between them is the kind that comes from genuine affection rather than from the script. You can’t fake that kind of thing and it shows here that they don’t.

This is clearly an ensemble film and all of the characters are given their moments to shine; if you had favorites from the original films you won’t be disappointed with the amount of screen time they get. There are a number of references to the earlier films, enough that those who are unfamiliar with them might get a little lost.

Also, like the first films, there is some heavy raunchiness going on here and if that isn’t your thing chances are you aren’t going to be reading this review anyway since chances also are that you have no intention of seeing this or any of the other films in the series. Ever.

If you liked the other movies in the series, you’ll more than likely like this one too. If you didn’t, you won’t like this one either. The same elements are all here that made up those films – the sometimes uncomfortable wisdom passed on to Jim by his dad, the outrageous attitude of the Stifmeister, the sometimes awkward antics of Finch and Kevin and of course the gorgeous girls who have grown up to become gorgeous women.

I liked this a lot more than I expected to but looking back, I’m not sure why my expectations were so low to begin with. This isn’t rocket science, after all – this is life and the common experiences most of us share. Sure, we don’t necessarily have our sexual failures broadcast on YouTube or sleep with the moms of one of our best friends – at least I didn’t – but all of us have had some awkward moments dealing with sex and attraction as teenagers, and experienced the disappointment of our lives not turning out how we expected them to. Hopefully, you’ll be granted the wisdom to accept that however our lives turned out that they are what we make of them and that good friends and loving family will make them bearable no matter what.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly warm and fuzzy. Nice to see “the gang” after so long.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies on crude humor like all the films in the series. Cliché-heavy. Too many references to previous films in the series for newcomers to jump comfortably in.

FAMILY VALUES:  Well, it’s crude. And obnoxious. There’s nudity, foul language and all sorts of sexual humor of varying degrees of grossness. There’s also some teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Levy is the only actor to appear in all eight American Pie films including the direct-to-video ones.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a look at how the producers were able to re-assemble nearly all of the original cast, a mini-featurette focusing on the cast’s predilection for punching each other in the balls (I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to) and finally, an interactive yearbook in which you can click on various characters, find out information about them and see interviews with the actor who played them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $235.0M on a $50M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grosse Point Blank

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The 13th Warrior

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Gut


Jason Vail likes to watch.

Jason Vail likes to watch.

(2012) Horror (Gut Productions) Jason Vail, Nicholas Wilder, Sarah Schoofs, Kirstianna Mueller, Kaitlyn Mueller, Angie Bullaro, Ria Burns-Wilder, Leisa Haddad, Misty Gonzalez, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Karl Pfeiffer, Jordan Sariego, Christine Kadets, Deborah J. Atuk, J. Brett Rose, Heather Lattuca Ferrari, Frank Pelligra, Antonia Roman. Directed by Elias. 

There are things in our personality that we aren’t proud of. It might be a quick temper, or a tendency towards procrastination. Sometimes they are dark sides of our nature, something that we can’t share with anyone but a select few.

Tom (Vail) has a pretty decent life all things considered. He has a job albeit not a very good one, but his closest friend Dan (Wilder) works with him. The two have a shared love for horror flicks, the darker the better. But since Tom got married he and Dan have been drifting apart.

And why wouldn’t Tom start drifting away? His wife Lily (Schoofs) is amazing, very into sex and supportive. Their daughter Katie (the Mueller twins) loves her daddy very much. It’s a pretty good life, with a better one in their sights; Katie and Tom are thinking of moving away where they can get a better home and a better job for Tom. Besides, Dan has gotten a bit…clingy.

The two have lunch together nearly every day at a local diner. Not because the food is so great but Dan is sweet on Sally (Bullaro), a waitress there. Dan whines about Tom paying less attention to him and eventually Tom agrees to drop by and watch a video with him.

So one night Tom goes over to hang out with Dan in his apartment and Dan pulls out this DVD he’s purchased from the Internet and it’s freaking creepy. It’s a naked woman strapped to a table. Her cries are muffled.  A pair of hands in surgical gloves rubs up and down her torso before producing a wicked looking knife and cutting her open. Her cries slowly fade away as she bleeds out….after which those surgically gloved hands go inside her body, rooting away in an almost erotic, loving fashion.

So is the tape real? Both Tom and Dan seem to think it is. Tom is at first appalled and tells Dan not to order any more of those sorts of DVDs anymore. But despite his protests, Tom is secretly mesmerized by the images. And turned on by them. Sex with Lily has become less exciting and no matter what she does he finds himself unable to be stimulated unless he is thinking about those images.

As you can expect Dan gets more tapes of similar types and it is plain both men have become obsessed. Dan is missing work and Tom, well Tom and Lily are beginning to have problems. Even roughhousing with Katie is bringing images of blood on her bare torso to Tom’s mind. He can’t seem to get those images out of his head, even though he knows its wrong.

But as they inevitably do, things spiral out of control and both men begin to suspect that each of them may be the one taking these movies. Who is behind it? And what was Tom doing at the beginning of the film?

This is a disturbing psychological horror film. While there is some blood, there isn’t an overabundance of it. The theme is more about obsession with death than it is about actual death, and about the eroticism of horror.

The movie is very starkly filmed. Possibly that’s because of the low budget but I think it might also be intentional. The feel is almost clinical in some ways, which makes the horror even more intense. Adding to that sterility is the flat performances of the actors who at times seem to lack any emotion. Is it a commentary on how numb our society has gotten? I like to think it is.

This is both social commentary and horror – the eroticism of death and the general desensitized populace that is modern Western society. The problem with horror films in 2013 is that they have a hard time competing with the real horrors that we see every day – gunmen opening fire on schools, whack jobs planting bombs at popular and prestigious events, planes full of gasoline being flown deliberately into buildings full of people, terrorists strapping bombs to their chest and setting them off on city buses. How is a vampire or a werewolf compete with that when there are monsters everywhere with human faces?

Gut actually explores that a little bit and modestly at that. I found it to be disturbing and provocative and, if you’ll pardon the pun, a cut above most horror films that are out there.

NOTE: Gut is being released on DVD on May 28. Click on the photo above to go to their home page and find out a little bit more about it, or to stream the movie from several online sources.

REASONS TO GO: Unnerving. Clinical view of horror makes it more intense.

REASONS TO STAY: A curious emotional flatness to nearly all the characters.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some gore, quite a bit of graphic nudity and sexuality and a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Played last year’s Orlando Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet; while not a lot of mainstream critics have seen this (and those who have didn’t like it much), the underground horror press has been raving about this one for some time.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Videodrome

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Pain & Gain