|American Pie 2 (Unrated Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 15 January 2002|
The two "American Pie" films – both the 1999 original and its 2001 sequel – should be given special mention whenever the American teen sex comedy is under discussion. The "Pie" films manages to accomplish what its peers strive for but all too seldom achieve, namely true comedic outrageousness. The "Pies" also generate some elements that other movies in the genre seem to go out of their way to avoid: an air of genuine warmth that translates into sincere compassion for all of the characters, a refusal to make females look stupid and/or like victims and an overall honest belief that even (or perhaps especially) adolescents looking for sex are good-hearted human beings. It’s a weird and unexpected trick, but the "Pie" makers have mastered it twice now.
"American Pie 2" is a true sequel, not only reuniting virtually the entire cast from the first movie, but also faithfully picking up the various plot strands. It’s a year later in film time, so the five lads – Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott) – who we last saw surviving prom night, are now returning home for the summer after their stint as college freshmen. Spurred on by some vague advice from his older brother, Kevin decides that memories must be made during this vacation and persuades the others to join him in renting out a house on the shores of Lake Michigan – paid for with summer house-painting work – to conclude in a massive blow-out party. The boys have new adventures while coming to terms with the history they’ve already made.
So far, this could be the framework for just about anything, but screenwriter Adam Herz (he also penned the first one – here he works from a story credited to him and David H. Steinberg) ably keeps track of a horde of diverging plot threads, nearly all of which pay off climactically (so to speak), without being at the expense of any character’s integrity. Some of the set-ups and payoffs are downright inspired – the Chapter 11 sequence about voyeurism goes in a completely unpredictable direction that arguably has never before been touched on in quite this way in a major studio release. The segment is funny on so many levels that it’s possible to imagine someone writing a college dissertation on the scene’s themes, even while doubled over, chortling helplessly. Director J.B. Rogers has a very deft hand in setting the tone, bringing the gags to frenetic pitch, but also helming effective naturalistic moments that fit smoothly with the broader comedy.
Alyson Hannigan is back as "band geek" Michelle (so far, the only person with whom our hapless hero Jim has managed to complete the sex act). Hannigan is a wonderful comedic actress, able to play daffy and pragmatic simultaneously, and absolutely fearless in spouting lines that might make another actress quail. The filmmakers have wisely decided to make the most of Hannigan’s considerable gifts in the sequel, which winds up tilting the movie in an odd way – it becomes a bit more about the Jim/Michelle relationship than may have been intended, but the laughs are larger for it.
Biggs is still game for registering every shade of embarrassment as Jim winds up in several appalling situations, but he also exudes genial kindness that serves him well and he excels in his scenes with Hannigan. Eugene Levy is brilliantly on-target and affecting as Jim’s dad, who once again demonstrates an unfailing ability to say the most mortifying thing possible while still being the most supportive parent anyone could want. The rest of the cast is energetic and ingratiating.
The "American Pie 2" DVD is available in four (count ‘em!) different versions: unrated widescreen (our review version), unrated full-screen, R-rated widescreen and R-rated full-screen (this last presumably for people who want to get the least possible out of their DVD-watching experience). Someone better versed in "American Pie 2" might be able to point out the changes between the R-rated and unrated versions. To someone who’s only seen the R-rated theatrical version and the unrated home version once each, the additions are insignificant – anyone looking for blatant NC-17 outrageousness in the modified version will be disappointed.
Fans of the movie as it already existed, however, will have plenty to be happy about. The print transfer is clean and vibrant, with especially admirable nuances in the color. There’s a shot in a Chapter 16 beach sequence that shows the ocean stretching behind the characters in four different shades of green and blue, with yet another deep blue in the sky above and no bleed or glare from the sand. It’s unlikely that anyone will purchase "American Pie 2" for its superb color reproduction, but it’s still a beautiful grace note.
The DTS sound mix is professional and pleasant, although it seldom draws attention to itself. Most of the soundtrack consists of dialogue that is clear and audible, woven around some well-chosen pop ballads. There’s a nicely directional – and surprisingly resonant – sound of impact in Chapter 1 as Jim accidentally slams his head into the wall. In Chapter 6, the vocals of an agreeable song deliberately bounce back and forth from left to right main and back, call and response style, weaving around the center-channel dialogue. Chapter 7 has very respectable main and rear surround effects as a crowd applauds in an outdoor amphitheatre, which has a realistically feedback-spewing mic and amp system in the center and mains. Chapter 18 returns us to this site, having fun with a badly-played trombone in the center while another romantic pop ballad soars through the mains and rears.
There’s a ton of supplemental material on the disc, including four different audio commentaries: one each from director Rogers and screenwriter Herz, both smart and informative, a giggly partylike joint chat from actors Biggs, Mena Suvari and Thomas Ian Nicholas, and a more contemplative one from actor Eddie Kaye Thomas. There’s a frisky making-of featurette, plus a five-minute quasi-music video, designated as "Good Times," with the cast goofing around between takes. An outtake supplement is amusing and the 3 Doors Down music video for "Be Like That" is not only pleasing in its 5.1 mix but also has lyrics that make the song an extremely good match for the film’s themes. The gallery of screen tests on six of the cast members provides an intriguing look at the evolution of the characterizations, giving us the original experimental concepts to contrast with the final results.
"American Pie 2" is a teen comedy for those who like raunchy humor and the pursuit of sex, but don’t like their jokes mucked up with mean-spiritedness. We come away from this movie laughing hard and liking everybody, which is all that can reasonably be asked for and more than the genre usually provides. It’s a great bonus that it comes to home theatre on such a well-crafted and extras-laden disc.