[box cover]

American Pie 2: Collector's Edition

Universal Studios Home Video

Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas,
Chris Klien, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Seann William Scott

Written by Adam Herz
Directed by J.B. Rogers

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

If there's one thing in life that's certain — if history teaches us anything — it's that sequels to popular sex comedies are invariably disappointing. In a genre where the first time rarely delivers the goods, the charming cherry popping of the original American Pie is an unusual accomplishment, and the conflicting nature of sequels (more of the same + but different + but bigger + don't change at all) seldom lends itself to satisfying seconds.

American Pie 2 both succeeds and fails for the same reasons that made its progenitor a surprise blockbuster.

The entire cast returns to their likable roles, virtually unchanged by a year of college life and reunited at Lake Michigan for further raunchy hijinks and horny embarrassments. The biggest shift in American Pie 2 is one of priorities. The first film juggled four stories with near equal attention, creating a pleasing comic balance between the sensitivities and crudities of teen angst. However, this follow-up offers only a token nod toward its less-broad strokes.

Although sensitive Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) still uneasily relates to his now ex-girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), and Oz (Chris Klein) continues a mushy but now long-distance relationship with globetrotting Heather (Mena Suvari, who looks more and more like one of those blue aliens from Fantastic Planet), these stories are peripheral, and in the case of Oz and Heather, almost an afterthought. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) still self-consciously cultivates an air of faux-sophistication while his female counterpart, Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), is practically an extra. With these characters relegated to minor diversions, the thrust of this sequel is the further sexual humiliation of doddering dessert despoiler Jim (Jason Biggs), still haunted by his awkward father (Eugene Levy), an obsession with sexy Czech beauty Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), and memories of his mysterious prom night tangle with band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan).

AP2, as the kids call it, bravely goes where every sequel has gone before: milking the franchise's most notorious moments through affectionate recreation. While thankfully dropping the unpleasant poo-related episode of the first film, nearly every other scenario is dutifully echoed: Jim is caught inflagrante by mom and dad, Kevin takes plot-turning advice from his older brother (Casey Affleck), an unusual sexual scenario is unwittingly broadcast to a receptive public, Jim's attempts at self-gratification go seriously awry, etc., etc.

The winning ingredient of American Pie was the engaging characters created by its likable cast. Although stories of band camp and a love for baked goods provided memorable comic surprises, they wouldn't have had near the impact if we hadn't been drawn into those situations by an appealing group of friends groping their way through teen-age sexual confusions. Unfortunately, rather than being a sequel about the characters from the first film, AP2 is a sequel to the events of the first film, completely lacking in dramatic or comic narrative tension, but rather jukeboxing a series of the same crass-but-amusing scenarios. Two welcomed retreads are the relentless debauchery of Stifler (Seann William Scott), whose sociopathic hedonism knows no bounds, and Chris Owens' reprise as "The Shermanator." Luckily for this second installment, the characters retain enough charm — largely based on nostalgia for the first film — to provide for an amiable, if uninspired experience. Its unswerving sameness is its greatest gift and its weakest crutch

It's notable that screenwriter Adam Hertz is the only member of the original's key creative threesome to return to his original role (AP's directors Chris and Paul Weitz return here as producers, delegating the helm to former assistant director James B. Rogers), betraying the franchise's lack of ambition. Many of the gags are unimaginative — two early ones even rely on characters being comically knocked unconscious by happenstance — although most manage a whif of amusement. Hertz' most inspired, if inevitable, new move is expanding the role of band geek Michelle, which, even though predictable in its outcome, injects fresh air into an increasingly stale room.

Universal saturated the home video market with several incarnations of the first American Pie: R-rated and unrated, widescreen and pan-and-scan, Collector's and Ultimate editions, to the point where a dedicated consumer could fill one shelf of their DVD library with this one title alone. So far, the Collector's Edition of the sequel is off to a good start, available in both the theatrical R-rated cut and an unrated version running six minutes longer, available separately in both widescreen and pan & scan formats. All of these versions include a bounty of extra features, although many of them lack in quality what they provide in quantity. The packaging boasts "Over 10 hours of entertainment!," the latter part of which should be interpreted very loosely.

Take the four commentary tracks. Yes, four. The first track reveals virgin director J.B. Rogers as a rather dull workman, and the second track doesn't make screenwriter Adam Herz appear any more engaging. The third track, with cast members Jason Biggs, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Mena Suvari is a little more lively, but vapid Suvari, if not properly exiled from acting all together, should at least be banned from ever entering the commentary booth again. The fourth track is the sole dominion of dour cast member Eddie Kaye Thomas, who, frankly, sounds lonely.

The Baking of a Hot Summer Movie: American Pie 2 (24:00) — Your standard, flashy, pop-scored behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews.

Good Times with the Cast of American Pie 2 (5:17) — Wacky behind-the-scenes clips. Lots of character-breaking, nutty dancing, and kooky rehearsal footage.

Outtakes (5:28) — If you like to watch actors mess up, play jokes, and laugh their assess off, this is the place for you.

Screen tests — Six quick clips from casting for the original film, with Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Eddie Kaye Thomas.

Deleted Scenes (10:27) — A reel of excised material, including some nice, low-key character moments and a couple of amusing gags, but surprisingly none of the cut footage featuring Chris Penn as Stifler's dad.

Music video (4:10) for "Be Like That" by 3 Doors Down

Your Favorite Piece of Pie — Top 10 scenes from the two films as selected by fans. With a brief introduction by Seann William Scott.

Classic movie lines — Links to 15 soundbytes from American Pie 2.

Trailer (2:30) — Theatrical trailer featuring a cautionary introduction by Jason Biggs (:44).

— Gregory P. Dorr

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