American Pie Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
July 8th, 1999

Starring: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Natasha Lyonne, Mena Suvari, Seann W. Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Shannon Elizabeth, Eugene Levy.
Screenplay: Adam Herz.
Producers: Chris Weitz, Warren Zide, Craig Perry and Chris Moore. Director: Paul Weitz.
MPAA Rating: R (sexual situations, profanity, nudity, adult themes) Running Time: 96 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    Ah, for those carefree days when a sniggering teen sex comedy could be a sniggering teen sex comedy. The time was the early 80s, when films like PORKY'S, LOSIN' IT and THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN celebrated the adolescent male in all his sex-obsessed glory. That was pre-AIDS, when no one thought twice about mining the blinding surge of hormones for all the low-brow humor it was worth. In 1999, apparently, you need to be more socially responsible in your portrayals of high school horn-dogs. Leering and debauchery are permitted only if you note the foolishness of leering and debauchery.

    It's that one hypocritical miscalculation that spoils much of the puerile fun of AMERICAN PIE. The premise is teen sex comedy at its most fundamental: four seniors at a suburban Michigan high school, virgins all, make a pact to do the deed by prom night. Jim (Jason Biggs), utterly inept in his sexual explorations, finds himself sharing intimate moments with his dad (a brilliantly cast Eugene Levy) more often than any girl. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is involved with Vicky (Tara Reid), but finds potential consummation complicated by the "l-word." Oz (Chris Klein), a jock who wants to be more sensitive, joins the choir to get closer to Heather (Mena Suvari). And mature-beyond-his-years Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) prefers having the worldly Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) spread rumors about his manly prowess.

    Naturally, all of their tentative fumblings lead to humiliating, disgusting -- and sometimes very funny -- situations. Jim is caught by his parents in compromising positions with a tube sock and a warm apple pie. Party animal Stifler (Seann W. Scott, marvelously epitomizing teen jerk-dom) consumes a beer featuring a mystery ingredient. Finch falls victim to a laxative-laced mochachino. And unlucky Jim becomes an Internet star in a web-cast display of over-enthusiastic libido. The belly laughs are crude and far between, interrupted too often by the bland romance between Oz and Heather, but the outrageous situations and appealing cast maintain a high energy level. As unapologetic raunchiness, it's fairly effective.

    Then, without warning, AMERICAN PIE turns into apologetic raunchiness. As the film draws to a close, Jim lets loose with a speech about how tired he is of the emphasis on sex, which "isn't really that important." It's a jaw-dropping display of chutzpah from a film that has just spent 90 minutes yanking laughs from its audience with the idea that sex isn't everything, it's the only thing. The commentary rings even more hollow when AMERICAN PIE ends with a four-way, er, climax in which our protagonists all find themselves scoring anyway. And after that, the film tries once again to get message-y on us by having the four friends share a carbonated toast to the notion that the simple pleasures of high school friendship are more valuable than sex. It's enough to make you gag on your laxative-laced mochachino.

    There is a place, of course, for films that cast a more thoughtful, skeptical eye on the caprices of youthful sexuality. Those films may be even more necessary now than ever. AMERICAN PIE, however, shouldn't have tried to be one of them, because there's also a place for a throwback to a time when you weren't expected to feel guity about your guffaws. Screenwriter Adam Herz and director Paul Weitz play the disingenuous game Don Rickles plays when he closes his act with an admonition that "we're all just one big family of Man" -- this after spending 90 minutes joking about tightwad Jews and Chinese drivers. If you're going to be naughty, at least have the nerve to stand by your naughtiness when it's funny. Herz and Weitz want to have their AMERICAN PIE and eat it too.

    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 chicken pies: 5.

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