‘American Reunion’ Commentary: Gross-Out Gags and Nostalgia Do Not Mix

Jim (Jason Biggs) may be married with a son but he's still up to trouble in 'American Reunion'

The laughs bubble to the surface far too easy. Just like yesterday, you can picture Jason Biggs as the gangly teen Jim Levenstein having R-rated fun in the kitchen with his mom’s apple pie or performing a bedroom striptease in front of Shannon Elizabeth’s sexy exchange student Nadia.

Biggs and the pie are rock solid memories thanks to all the fun you remember watching the high school comedy American Pie close to 13 years ago.

Nostalgia, at least as far as gross-out humor is concerned, revolves around sneaking into one’s first R-rated comedy; or perhaps being carded by a box office staffer despite the fact you’re way past 17-years-old.

Maybe, at least with regards to my personal timeline, American Pie brings back memories of belly laughs; writing an enthusiastic review and battling an older female colleague who considered the film rude, crude and too lewd for you.

Past the straight-to-DVD features like American Pie Presents Beta House, American Pie Presents The Naked Mile and American Pie Presents Band Camp (all forgettable); and some nine years since the last theatrical release, American Wedding; the entire American Pie gang, Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Klein, Eugene Levy, Tara Reid, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge and Mena Suvari return to fictional East Great Falls, Michigan for a high school reunion, American Reunion. Of course it’s a chance to reconnect the American Pie franchise with longtime fans hitting middle age just like Jim, Michelle (Hannigan), the former band camp teen and Jim’s wife, and their buds. It’s also an opportunity for new teenage fans to discover American Pie-variety gross-out gags and sex jokes.

“We’re (Alyson Hannigan and Jason Biggs‘ characters) still married and we have a child,” Hannigan said in an earlier interview. “So we’re navigating the waters of parenthood and how that changes the dynamics of a relationship. But also they’re going back to their high school reunion and so there’s some nostalgia there of ‘Aw, remember what we were like when we first met?’”

“That kind of stuff. It’s really nice. I really love that relationship. They’ve stayed true to it. The great thing about this franchise is that, of course, there’s the raunchy humor but there’s also a lot of heart to it and this fourth movie does not miss the boat on that at all.”

True to Hannigan’s words, the latest gags in American Reunion revolve around being married with children and the midlife drop in sex with Harold & Kumar writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg both co-writing and co-directing the movie.

Slapstick moments include Jim closing his laptop on his penis while his infant son catches him watching porn. Sounds funny, right? Yet, the joke comes off clumsy instead of clever, stale instead of slapstick and not as much fun as you imagine it would be.

The same thing is true for Hannigan’s character Michelle, so hilarious as the trash talking teen from the first movie and excruciatingly dull as a frustrated mom.

Early into American Reunion, just after a couple of failed gags, it becomes clear that the once-successful formula comes apart with the introduction of on-screen nostalgia. Hurwitz and Schlossberg want American Reunion to be crude and funny for a new generation while its older characters reminisce about what was crude and funny long ago.

The sweetness of nostalgia and the sassiness of a sex farce don’t work. The wolf pack buds of The Hangover didn’t spend The Hangover Part II reflecting on their Las Vegas adventure. Instead, they went off and caused more mayhem in Bangkok.

After all, the last thing teens seeking sex laughs from American Reunion want to hear about are the raunchy gags that made their parents laugh 13 years ago.

Time to put away the trademark apple pie that gave the American Pie franchise its brand name? It is when a sex comedy reaches the point of nostalgia.

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