|American Pie (Rated Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 21 December 1999|
AMERICAN PIE unexpectedly turned out to be one of the biggest hits of 1999; one of the main reasons that it made such a ton of money is that while it's a teen gross-out comedy, it's also surprisingly tender, intelligent and authentic. The presskit said some of the filmmakers were big fans of earlier comedies of this nature, such as PORKY'S and REVENGE OF THE NERDS, but AMERICAN PIE is considerably better than either of those, because it's more ambitious. It owes more to a thoughtful, if funny, movie like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH than it does to any knockoffs of ANIMAL HOUSE.
Deliberately, though AMERICAN PIE is contemporary, it looks and plays like it's set at some time in the past, maybe as far back as the early 1960s, since it's obvious that even AMERICAN GRAFFITI and played some part in the creation of this movie. It was written by Adam Herz, partly based on his own high school appearances, and jointly produced and directed by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz, making their movie debuts. (The credits cite only Paul as director, but the making-of featurette included on the DVD, plus the boisterous commentary explicitly state that both the Weitzes directed.)
The movie is about raging teenage hormones, mostly male raging teenage hormones, but unlike most of its predecessors, AMERICAN PIE deals quite fairly with high school girls as well (probably helping it at the boxoffice). As their graduation -- and the prom before it -- approach, in the wake of a drunken party, Michigan high school buddies Jim (Jason Biggs), Chris (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), make a pact: they WILL get laid before they graduate, and they also vow to help each other in this momentous quest.
Kevin is already getting oral sex from his girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), but she's reluctant to go all the way until he says he loves her. Chris, often called Oz, is a star lacrosse athlete, but he, too, is a virgin, and like most of his friends, awkward with girls. To the surprise of the others, he joins a glee club jazz ensemble, with his eye on beautiful Heather (Mena Suvari), who's impressed by his voice and his sensitivity.
Finch is not quite a nerd, but he's good in his classes, and even among his friends, is seen as something of an outsider. So he pays Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), the school's most prominent Girl Who Knows Everything, $200 to spread the word that he's extraordinarily well-hung and a sensation in bed. This has dire consequences.
Jim is the most anxious of the four; we first meet him watching a scrambled sex channel; he becomes become thoroughly aroused -- and horrendously embarrassed when his parents walk in. His good-natured dad (Eugene Levy), who's been there himself, begins to offer Jim all kinds of unneeded and intrusive advice.
Jason Biggs has the unusual ability to be at once expressive and to look as if he's just been slugged in the back of the head with a ball-peen hammer. Everything stuns him a little, but he's always ready for more, even if he's quicker on the trigger than he really likes. Chris Klein, who was so memorably and sweetly airheaded in ELECTION is excellent as Oz; he's naive and innocent without ever seeming the least bit dimwitted. He's also a big handsome hunk, the kind of guy who should be on the short list to play Superman 45 notches ahead of Nicolas Cage. Thomas Ian Nicholas is the most sophisticated of the quartet of friends, even though he's still just a high school kid. He's also the most experienced movie actor among the bunch, which might explain why there's something a bit slick about his performance. Eddie Kaye Thomas undergoes an amazing but subtle transformation in the pool table scene at the end of the movie; without any major changes in performance or dialog, he smoothly shifts from high school quasi-geek to a suave, sophisticated man of the world.
There are a lot of first-time-director flaws in AMERICAN PIE, including one rarely encountered in a studio movie: the sound is crummy. Not that it has been recorded ineptly, but rather that there's not enough sound; the scenes have a hollow feel, since there's little "ambient" or even background noise. The Weitzes wanted their movie to have a slightly retro feel, but this problem with the sound makes the film seem cheap as well as anachronistic.
The Weitzes and screenwriter Adam Herz don't integrate the gross-out scenes with the rest of the movie, except for Jim's encounter with the pie and with Nadia. This is especially awkward with Finch, who is given a bathroom phobia (he goes home whenever he has to defecate) that pays off crudely in a scene swiped from DUMB AND DUMBER -- and which was offensively gross even there. It's no better here, and neither relates to Finch's character very well, nor pays off afterward.
But still, Herz and the Weitzes are in there trying, which is more than can be said for most movies of this nature today. They do care about their characters, they do want to say something about the nature of teenage romances and obsession with sex. The last quarter of the film is surprisingly wistful and touching, especially in the relationship between Vicky and Kevin. And the funny stuff is funny far more often than it isn't, and far funnier than one would expect from a medium-low budget no-star movie, especially one released by a major studio. It's not a sleeper classic, but AMERICAN PIE is an amusing, entertaining movie.
The DVD has lots of extras, but most of them don't amount to much; the making-of featurette is the usual sort of thing, slightly more interesting than some, but doesn't add much. The narrative track, with both Weitzes, writer Adam Herz and actors Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Seann William Scott (memorable in the movie as Stifler) is worth listening to because it's amusing -- a bunch of guys whooping it up -- but not because it's very informative. Otherwise, the DVD is the usual big-studio class act.