AMERICAN PIE Trilogy Blu-ray Review

     March 27, 2012


With the upcoming release of American Reunion, the first three American Pie films have been put to Blu-ray, all offering both theatrical and unrated cuts. The films follow Jim (Jason Biggs) and his best friends Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) as they quest to get laid. In the first film, Jim is just looking for sex, in the second he finds love, and in the third he gets married. Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Jennifer Coolidge, Mena Survari, Shannon Elizabeth, January Jones, Natasha Lyonne, and Eugene Levy also star. And our review of the American Pie trilogy on Blu-ray follows after jump.

american-pie-imageThe first film introduces Jim watching scrambled pornography on cable. This is the first sign these films are now a little antiquated. His parents walk in on him, and that sets the tone for the movies, which are all about sexual embarrassments. He and his friends Oz (Klein), Finch (Thomas) and Kevin (Nicholas) make a pledge to lose their virginities on prom night. Kevin’s got it easiest as he has a girlfriend Vicky (Reid), but she hasn’t been receptive to his reluctance to say he loves her. He hopes he can remedy the situation by going down on her. Oz joins the glee club and meets Heather (Survari), who thinks he’s there just to meet girls, but grows to like him. Finch does nothing, it seems, but the women of the school start gossiping about him. And Jim has exchange student Nadia (Elizabeth) proposition him to help with her studies.

This leads to one of the big set pieces of the movie (of which there are a number, including pie-fucking) where Nadia comes over to change after practice. She finds his adult magazines, and it gets interesting. This is an awkward scene to start with in that it involves Jim secretly recording her changing, but then it becomes about his sexual awkwardness. There are reasons to find this sequence a little gross, but the camera shames Jim more than Nadia, so it’s not too painful, and to a certain extent you could argue this is as much about our voyeurism and the idea of hot exchange students as it is just exploitation. Jim eventually asks Michelle (Hannigan) to the prom, as she’s a band geek and seems socially awkward.

american-pie-blu-ray-coverDirected by Paul and Chris Weitz, the first film was their first film, and it shows. Early sequences have a crudeness of direction, and the cast were mostly amateurs, so that combination leads to some painful moments. But as the film moves along they find their groove, or perhaps it becomes less notable. The same could be said for the characters, whose goal (having sex) comes across as crude at first, but the men like the women they’re with and only the men are exploited. What may be most impressive about the film is that for a comedy (that runs 96 minutes) they do a great job of establishing the four leads, the four main romantic interests, and a number of tertiary characters, like Stifler’s Mom (Coolidge), the knowing best friend Jessica (Lyonne) and The Sherminator (Chris Owen). But if anyone emerged from this film a star it was Seann William Scott as Steve Stifler. He first appears as a jerk and then ends up drinking a cup of semen-soaked beer, which sets the pattern for the character. The films counters his brash assholishness with ritual humiliation. Stifler may be the sort of person you wouldn’t want to hang around in real life, but he’s great on screen.

The film works, and works partly because of Eugene Levy’s performance as Jim’s dad, who tries to be understanding of his teenage son, and finds a way to be gentle with him after his numerous sexual embarrassments. He’s trying really hard, and maybe he fails in some ways, but that desire to help and love your son grounds the film.

american-pie-2-imageAmerican Pie 2 may be the best of the series, but it’s also the messiest. Everyone returns (there’s no big new characters) home after their first year in college. Jim was about to have sex for the second time (with Joelle Carter of Justified fame), but – as to be expected  – it ends in the most disastrous way possible: Not only do his parents walk in, her parents do as well.

Once home it’s Kevin who’s slightly depressed because he and Vicki have split up and hanging out with her is awkward. Oz and Heather are still dating, but she’s away to Europe for most of the summer. Jim is still “that guy” from “that video,” but he perks up when Nadia calls to tell him she’s coming back to visit. Jim thinks he sucks at sex, so he goes to Michelle for some love lessons. Finch is still in love with Stifler’s mom, and finds a book about tantric sex in her bedroom, so he studies it. The boys and Stifler move out to a beach house to have a fun summer.

american-pie-2-blu-rayAs the supplements (on the first film’s disc) show, this movie was patched together in the last minute when some depressing subplots didn’t work. They wanted to go darker with Oz and Michelle’s relationship, which is paired with Kevin and Vicky’s – giving the men who were in relationships in the first film heartbreak. Originally there’s was going to be infidelities with Oz and Michelle, and there was also going to be a character named Stifler’s dad (played by Chris Penn), which explained why Steve Stifler was such a dick. A couple of last minute reshoots later, and the film came together, but those original instincts could have torpedoed the film. Unfortunately, both Kevin and Oz’s storylines feel somewhat like padding. They aren’t that interesting of characters, and where it made for nice symmetry in the original, here they’re mostly pointless.

But if the film works best of the lot, it’s because the ongoing relationship between Jim and Michelle has a lot of heart. Hannigan plays the hell out of her sexually freaky but socially ungifted love interest, and the two have a great chemistry together. That they get married in the next film is no surprise – the two are meant to be together. And the idea of giving everyone mostly happy endings (even the Sherminator) makes this a very sweet movie. The all-star here, again, is Eugene Levy, and when he talks to Jim about good news while he’s superglued to himself, it’s kind of beautiful. This is a father who’s made a moral decision to overlook whatever terribleness Jim is involved in (none of which speaks all that ill of his character) to focus on the good things. It makes him a great father. Director J.B. Rogers had been doing second unit for a while, and he’s the perfect choice for this material. He’s there to service the material, and though it’s not fancy or complicated, he gives the film a smooth sheen.

american-wedding-movie-imageThe third film does some things right by ditching Oz, Vicky and a number of the other supporting players, but director Jesse Dylan comes across as amateurish (this is the only film in 2.35:1 and it doesn’t help), while at this point they seemed to have exhausted their supply of interesting and partly believable sexual hijinks. If the second film tried to escalate some of the gags, at least there was a good payoff. The scene with the “lesbians” in the second film does a great job of showing how men find homosexuality exciting when it involves women, but aren’t comfortable with their own. The big nudity set piece in Wedding is the bachelor party, which needed someone with expert timing, which Dylan didn’t deliver. The other best thing about the film: adding Fred Willard to the mix as Michelle’s father.

american-wedding-movie-image-2The film starts with Jim about to propose, but Michelle thinks he wants her to go down on him in the restaurant they’re at. Of course Jim forgot the ring, so his dad shows up to show in one scene what these movies are about – embarrassing sexual moments, and then heart. She says yes, so there are a number of complications. One is they don’t want Stifler at the wedding, and the other is that Jim needs to learn how to dance. Stifler says he’ll teach Jim if he can go – but he just wants in to try and nail a bridesmaid. And he’s very interested in Michelle’s sister Cadence (January Jones).

Thomas Ian Nicholas’s Kevin and Eddie Kaye Thomas’s Finch are around, but have much less to do – though Finch at least competes with Stifler for Cadence, and the big gag of this is that to be a part of the wedding and get close to Cadence, Steve acts more like Finch, while – to impress Cadence – Finch starts acting like Stifler. They were running on fumes and good will here but Eugene Levy gets some moments, and working against Fred Willard gives both some fun scenes.

Alas, most of the set pieces here just feel like ideas. Stifler gets into a dance off in a gay bar, and it’s a scene that works in spite of how shabbily it’s put together. And again, the scene with strippers should be a big moment of awesome, but it’s as if they never really figured out how to end it, so it just sort of stops. Then there’s a scene where Stifler eats dog poop. It’s funny that it took Hollywood nearly thirty years to steal a joke from John Waters, and then water it down. When Divine ate real dog shit in Pink Flamingos it was brilliant, here it’s just the most labored sequence in a film that’s already pretty labored.

american-wedding-coverBut – as I watched the films in a marathon session – American Wedding works as a conclusion because it feels like the way the series has to end (or had to, now there’s a fourth one). Though it gives Hannigan at least one terrible scene where she doesn’t think to censor herself in front of Jim’s dad (it’s funny to hear someone say “boning” to Eugene Levy, but it’s an emotionally dishonest sequence), the idea of her and Jim being together makes sense in the arc of the films. They are perfect for each other, even if getting married after college seemed a little antiquated in 2003.

And this film realizes that Stifler is the second lead of the series. More so than the other boys, Stifler is the yang to Jim’s yin, so the focus on his character is smart as he goes through similar “embarrassment to redemption” arcs. It’s also perfect that he’s an assistant coach who drives a bus.

Watching all three films, they did nail the innocence of a young men’s horniness. No one wants to hurt anyone, no one’s really perverted, they’re just boys filled with hormones, and everything is pretty natural in that regard. And no one had really failed yet, though there is a sense of melancholy about these moments in their life either passing or being over by the end of the films – the worst things that happen are that someone didn’t have sex. This gives me trepidations about a fourth film.

All the film comes in uncut and theatrical versions in widescreen (1.78:1 for the first two and 2.35:1 for Wedding) in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround, and with DVD and digital copies. These aren’t particularly well shot movies (standard, slightly overlit comedies), and so all look like their source material, which has been looked after. Upgrading for 1080p may be inessential. All discs also feature “American Reunion: A Look Inside” (4 min.). None come with main menus, which is odd.

alyson-hannigan-american-wedding-imageFor the first film, the differences between theatrical and unrated are seconds. It comes with deleted scenes (6 min.) and outtakes (3 min.), and then “American Pie Revealed” (213 min.). Yes, it runs three hours and thirty-three minutes. It walks through every single major gag from the films, and talks to all of the major cast members, including Jennifer Coolidge (who’s taking a bath), the five main boys, all the main girls, and it also includes deleted scenes not included on the other discs, which means it shows Chris Penn as Stifler’s dad. It mostly goes through the film’s in order, but it seems that the original DVD this came from had numerous Easter eggs, which are peppered throughout in random order. They also spend some time talking about this as a trilogy, which is fascinating to hear on the verge of the release of the fourth film. It concludes with the Weitz brothers, writer Adam Herz, the five main guys, J.B. Rogers, Jesse Dylan and January Jones sitting around talking about the filming of series over some Chinese food. There are six casting tapes (8 min.) for the original cast, and then a “Spotlight on Location” (11 min.) which is a standard EPK, though interesting for what it is. “From the Set of American Pie” (7 min.) offers the directors commenting on stills from the shoot, while there’s a Tonic music video and live performance, poster concepts (8 min.) and a commentary by the Weitz brothers, writer Adam Herz, and Biggs, Scott and Thomas. There’s also the film’s theatrical trailer.

american-pie-movie-poster-01Pie 2 ‘s theatrical version runs 105 minutes, and the unrated version adds six minutes. It also has deleted scenes (11 min.), outtakes (5 min.) and a making of (24 min.). That’s followed by “Good Times with the Cast and Crew” (5 min.), and a music video. The film comes with commentaries by director J.B. Rogers, another by writer Adam Herz, a third by Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, and Thomas Ian Nicholas, and a fourth by Eddie Kaye Thomas. It also comes with a theatrical trailer with an introduction by Biggs. These commentary tracks should have been edited together. The best of the bunch is Herz, while the actors go in and out of focus about the film, and obviously have more to say about the scenes they’re in.

Wedding has the theatrical (96 min.) and unrated cuts (103 min.) and offers deleted scenes (22 min.), and outtakes (6 min.). It’s followed by “Stifler Speak” (7 min.) that gives Scott his due, and “Enter the Dominatrix: Inside the Bachelor Party”(10 min.), which focuses on the film’s most dirty scene. “Grooming the Groom” (7 min.) offers overlap with the first disc’s supplements as it talks about the pubic hair scene in the film, while “Cheesy Wedding Video” (3 min.) is behind the scenes footage from the wedding. “Kevin Cam: A Day in the Life of an Actor” (4 min.) follows Thomas Ian Nicholas on the day of the shoot for the bachelor party, while “Nikki’s Hollywood Journal” (10 min.) follows one of the bachelor party girls through the premiere. The film also comes with commentary by director Jesse Dylan and Senan William Scott, and a second track with Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Thomas Ian Nicholas.

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