Do you remember that one time, at band camp? If so, you might appreciate American Reunion for the chance it gives you to catch up with characters that made you laugh 10 years ago, but anybody else might be left at sea. Even though my generation has proved that we can feel nostalgic about virtually anything, it seems a little odd to feel nostalgic about a sex comedy (do 45-year-olds feel wistful about Porky’s?). But that is virtually the only level on which this film can be enjoyed, as it relies on nostalgia and repetition of moments from earlier in the series for most of its impact.
The movie, the fourth in the series and the first since 2003’s American Wedding, shows us the various approximations of adulthood the characters have settled into as their 13th reunion approaches. Jim (Jason Biggs) and his wife, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have a small child, and their sex life has ground to a halt. Oz (Chris Klein) has become a well-known sportscaster who appeared on a Dancing with the Stars-style show and has a hot young girlfriend (Katrina Bowden). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, doing his best Carlito Brigante impression with a beard and floppy hair) works out of his house as an architect, and laments that this has made him basically a househusband who has to watch (gasp!) Real Housewives of New Jersey with his wife. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has apparently become a world traveler who is always off climbing the Alps or riding a motorcycle around South America. Stifler (Seann William Scott) acts exactly the same way he used to, but finds that the traits that make for an excellent high-school douchebag don’t translate particularly well into the adult world, since the best job that he can hold down is as a temp.
Tara Reid and Mena Suvari also show up, though they mainly serve as props in the male characters’ storylines. I may have just forgotten, but it seems to me that the movie didn’t even bother to say what Reid’s character has been doing with her life.
The only real new blood here is Kara (Ali Cobrin), an 18-year-old who has a crush on Jim, who used to babysit her, and Selena (Dania Ramirez), a friend of Michelle’s from band camp who blossomed from an ugly duckling in high school to a superhot adult.
The performances, for the most part, are fine, but they tend to remind us why most of these guys haven’t become movie stars. Scott’s mugging is still enjoyable, and Hannigan is very nearly good, but time and the screenwriters have blunted the gleeful filthiness that made her character so much fun.
As usual, Eugene Levy, who again plays Biggs’ father, is easily the best thing about the film. He still gives Jim talks full of overly explicit, but helpful, advice. We also find out that Levy’s wife has died, and he really sells the regret and sorrow behind those scenes. He also sells the humor in the scenes that find him getting high and trying to hook up with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge).
Levy’s scenes contain the only really earned emotion in the film. For those of us who are roughly the same age as the characters in the film, there will be some built-in nostalgia that might give the movie some emotional weight it doesn’t deserve, and the movie doesn’t waste any chances to exploit that. There is an odd undercurrent of sadness here, but the characters’ regrets and small sorrows about the way their comfortable middle-class lives have turned out never really feel earned.
The film was written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who made the Harold and Kumar movies, but despite the fact that the two series share similar senses of humor, and some of the same performers, but this film isn’t nearly as manic or entertaining as their others.
They seem to be great fans of the previous films in the series, but that has made them a little afraid to add anything of their own, lest they damage the franchise. There are laughs to be had here — Levy’s uncomfortable pep talks with his son remain funny, and Stifler comes up with a particularly ingenious way to get back at some bullying teenagers, for example. But the movie feels more like it’s dutifully ticking off the boxes for what one of these films needs — plenty of nudity, casual sexism, liberal amounts of doo-doo and dick jokes — and less like it’s trying to create anything new or surprising. This predictability isn’t exactly unpleasant, and some will find it comforting, but it also signals that this series maybe doesn’t have all that much need to continue.
Much like a real high-school reunion, the film devotes so much time to rehashing and recreating the past that it can’t really create many valuable new memories. American Reunion is never less than pleasantly unremarkable, but it also gives us little more than a chance to check in with some people whom we hadn’t really thought about that much, but are pleasant enough to visit with for two hours.