**/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B
starring Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein
screenplay by Adam Herz
directed by J.B. Rogers
by Bill Chambers If American Pie was the Nineties' answer to the teen genre of Eighties cinema, then American Pie 2 revives the sitcom format of that same decade. It starts and it finishes, logging hours but not progress. That made the film awfully discomforting on the big screen: When I saw American Pie 2 in theatres, I felt similar to how I did the time I endured Close Encounters of the Third Kind on a 13" television; movies, like people, have proportions, and some clothing just doesn't fit. Part of me wishes I'd watched American Pie 2 on DVD first, because although I slightly preferred my home viewing to the one at the gigaplex, I knew where the jokes were, and they ain't built for repetition, nor is the film's malnourished narrative.
The entire cast returns, as does screenwriter Adam Herz, though the first film's co-directors Chris and Paul Weitz are AWOL, leaving Say It Isn't So auteur J.B. Rogers to pick up the slack. (That he does with relative efficiency speaks to the anonymity of American Pie's look and feel.) Onscreen, the gang reunites the summer after their freshman year at college, renting a house on Lake Michigan after Stifler's place, their party headquarters, is declared a booze-free zone by the authorities. Only Heather (Mena Suvari) misses out on the fun: she's off on some exchange-program in France, her scenes limited to abortive attempts at phone sex with boyfriend Oz (Chris Klein).
Each character is having a similarly flimsy crisis: Jim (Jason Biggs) expects Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) to visit at the end of the season and wants to be a better in the sack by the time she arrives--so he enlists band-camp Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) to tutor him in sex; Kev (Thomas Ian Nicholas) finds old feelings rekindled the moment he encounters ex-girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), who appears not to carry the same torch; and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is in a tantric state, saving it all up for the woman he can't have--Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge). Emotionally stunted (and appropriately named) Stifler (Seann William Scott) is the one among them at peace.
Suggesting a hypothetical episode of a series we'll call "Jim!", American Pie 2 has an A plot, the Jim-Nadia-Michelle triangle, that moves gently, if crassly, forward, and several B plots that stratify sans development. In all but one of her scenes, Reid is approached by Nicholas, listens neutrally to his dialogue, and then observes him leaving (one wonders if they called "Action!" or cued her with a blowgun, she's that disengaged). Oz and Heather are separated by an ocean, and then they aren't. And Finch, after announcing that he's saving himself for Stifler's mom, sticks to it, never once propositioned by someone else besides. It's not dull, exactly, just 70% dead-ends, like when the other cast members of "Family Ties" merely filled the negative space around a post-Back to the Future Michael J. Fox, that show's late-blooming star.
I guess this makes Jason Biggs American Pie 2's designated Alex P. Keaton, although the actor's career has been anything but on fire since the original. Jim's likable, but Biggs has the kind of lines that are funnier to girls than boys, because they perpetuate myths of the male orgasm. (At least this film avoids anything so ludicrous as the multiple premature ejaculations suffered by Jim in American Pie.) More amusing is Jim's Dad, played by Eugene Levy almost as a parody of the sensitive, good-cop fathers who crop up in suburban angst movies. Levy's innate lack of irony sells it. Stifler is probably my favourite Pie guy, perhaps because he has no sense of penitence; unlike his cohorts, he's not going to wind up a new-age slug by movie's end.
As for the women of the franchise, in American Pie 2 especially, they're both diminished on the page and pitifully performed: I've already mentioned the inanimate Reid (I knock her, but she had exquisite timing in Josie and the Pussycats), while Suvari says goodbye to her true love Oz at the airport like she's thanking the pizza delivery boy, Elizabeth continues her reign as the worst actress alive, and Hannigan mostly eulogizes her memorable turn in American Pie. Because American Pie 2 is not a taxing film, the masses went for it. That the not-stupid, bona fide Eighties flashback Donnie Darko has had trouble finding exhibitor and audience support in this same zeitgeist is maddening.
Universal Home Video is releasing not one but four (!) separate versions of American Pie 2 on DVD: R-rated widescreen, R-rated fullscreen, Unrated widescreen, and Unrated fullscreen. I am reviewing the Unrated widescreen, whose 'unratedness' is a complete mystery to me: I think the image of a trumpet dangling from between Jim's buttcheeks is new, but don't quote me. The various versions smack of a marketing ploy rather than an F-U to the MPAA, as even with the added shots, American Pie 2 is by today's standards hardly what one would consider edgy. (That is, I suspect a certain amount of footage was always shielded from the MPAA to allow for an unrated cut.)
The Unrated widescreen disc contains a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that's brighter than that of American Pie yet still questionably murky. The nicely- coloured/saturated image is also softer than I expected. The audio comes in two flavours of 5.1--DTS and Dolby Digital--that focus our attention on the front main speakers. (The music score is awful jock rock that doesn't lend itself to the 5.1 environment.) Surround usage is reserved for crickets during night exteriors. LFE info is nil save the opening title, which swoops into frame and lands with a light thud. Four separate screen-specific commentary tracks offer glib (J.B. Rogers), informative (Adam Herz), giggly (Biggs, Suvari, and Thomas Ian Nicholas together), and superfluous (Eddie Kaye Thomas) glimpses into the film's production. Keep your ears peeled to learn which line David Duchovny, Scott's Evolution co-star, contributed to the script.
The remaining extras are actor-centric and spoiler-driven, beginning with "The Baking of A Hot Summer Movie: American Pie 2" (24 mins.), which is divided up into sections according to character; imagine cheat sheets for American Pie 2. "Good Times with the Cast and Crew of American Pie 2", a 5-minute montage of behind-the-scenes hijinks, features no crew to speak of; much of this material is recycled for the "Outtakes" (or "Gag Reel") (5 mins.), in which Elizabeth dares express disgust at one of Biggs's dirty pranks--wasn't this woman's career founded on a topless masturbation sequence? The "Original Casting Tapes from American Pie 2" are actually casting tapes from American Pie, the auditions of Biggs, Elizabeth, Klein, Nicholas, Thomas, and Hannigan, uttering "band camp" and "pussy" for the umpteenth times in this package. (Let the poor girl have some dignity.)
A 10-minute block of noteworthy "Deleted Scenes" fleshes out the Vicky/Kev storyline and includes a bit with professional cutie Bree Turner (here bikini-clad) getting the cold shoulder from a meditating Finch. Seann William Scott, doing his best Unabomber impression, hosts "Your Favorite Piece of Pie", a best-of selection that compiles the top ten results of an Internet poll on fans' favourite scenes from the (R-rated editions of the) two American Pie films. ("The Lesbian Scene" is number one.) Rounding out the disc are a listing of "Classic Quotes", a chapter menu sorted by tunes, the 3 Doors Down video for "Be Like That", a trailer introduced by a mock-Public Service Announcement from Jason Biggs, "Production Notes", "Cast and Filmmaker" bios, the "DVD Newsletter", a commercial for the American Pie 2 soundtrack CD, another for Universal's theme parks, a trailer for the upcoming theatrical release The Bourne Identity, and a DVD-ROM activity ("Stifler's Mix") that allows you to remix parts of the film's soundtrack and store the results. I also discovered an Easter egg wherein Biggs, Nicholas, and Suvari throw literal eggs at the camera. Originally published: January 6, 2002.