Monday, February 25, 2008

Have Another Slice Of Pie. And Another. And Another.

You may have thought that, after AMERICAN WEDDING married off the leading characters played by Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan, there was no more story left to tell in the AMERICAN PIE universe. But money talks, and Universal continued the successful AMERICAN PIE series with three (to date) loose sequels was made specifically for DVD release. While the characters (for the most part) have changed, the series' dependence on foul scatological humor and embarrassing teenage sexuality hasn't.

In 2005, Universal released AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS BAND CAMP, which introduces Matt Stifler (Tad Hilgenbrink), the obnoxious younger brother of the even more obnoxious Steve Stifler played by Seann William Scott in the theatrical films. Give director Steve Rash (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) and his casting department credit for finding a young actor who looks and acts exactly like Scott, though Hilgenbrink couldn't make me believe that the jackass he's playing would be his high school's chick magnet.

After his mischievous prank breaks up the school's graduation party, "The Sherminator" (Chris Owen, just about the only cast member to return for the DTV sequels), the new guidance counselor, sentences Stifler to attend band camp—an odd punishment, considering Stifler doesn't play an instrument. Repulsed at the concept of hanging out with band geeks all summer, Stifler decides to spend his spare time taping girls in the shower and teaching his nerdy roommate how to be as big a jerk as he is. Naturally, Stifler's gags tend to backfire, resulting in strange situations like being found naked with his member stuck inside an oboe. It's that kind of movie.

I actually didn't mind BAND CAMP too much, though it treads no new ground. Arielle Kebbel, as the sweet bandleader and composer who inexplicably falls for Stifler, is a charmer who resembles Mandy Moore, and Rash finds room for Eugene Levy, so funny as Jim's Dad in the earlier films, to step in as the band camp's counselor. Timothy Stack (MY NAME IS EARL) and former porn star Ginger Lynn Allen play the camp's adults in scenes that recall THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Although Rash had a small budget, Universal provided a comfortable shooting schedule and Malibu locations, unlike the later sequels, which were farmed out to Toronto. As long as you're going to watch wild comedies where girls take off their clothes, it might as well be this one.

In case you're wondering how many Stiflers are in this family anyway, 2006's AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS THE NAKED MILE introduces us to cousin Erik Stifler (John White), who, we learn, is the "black sheep" of the family, because he studies, gets decent grades, and—shockers—is still a virgin in high school. He does manage, however, to kill his grandmother when the whole family walks in on him whacking it in the living room.

After a sexual interlude with nice girlfriend Tracy (Jessy Schram) ends in Erik's humiliation (when her father walks in, Erik is forced to hide naked in the dryer, where he drops a deuce), rather than a successful climax, she agrees to help alleviate his frustration by issuing a free pass—a weekend where Erik can do anything (and anyone) he wants. Erik and his pal Cooze (Jake Siegel) go to visit another Stifler—cousin Dwight (Steve Talley)—at college, where the non-stop partying provides Erik with a sure thing, a major hottie named Brandy (Candace Kroslak). But is it possible for Erik to enjoy guilt-free sex, even with Tracy's permission? What's a nice guy to do?

One thing about NAKED MILE—it offers more nudity than I've seen on-screen in a long time. The Naked Mile, in the story, is an annual campus event in which students streak across the quad—the debaucherous attraction that lured Erik and Cooze to college in the first place. Tuition must be high, because most of the young women there have the means to purchase fake breasts. Boobs and buns fill the screen most of the time, though equal-time advocates will be happy to hear that the male stars do some flashing as well.

As sick as much of the humor is, with semen and urine splashing across the screen like Tom Sawyer's whitewash, it isn't terribly mean-spirited, and the attractive cast seem like likable dudes you wouldn't mind hanging out with—even Dwight Stifler isn't a bad guy. And while many of the gags are scatological retreads from the earlier films, a silly setpiece involving our heroes in an intramural mud football game against a team of dwarves is genuinely fresh and funny. Director Joe Nussbaum (SLEEPOVER) makes it funny by presenting the little people not as jokes or victims, but as comic villains easily the mental, physical and sexual equals of Stifler and his pals.

I know you can't believe it, but Eugene Levy is back again as Mr. Levenstein, who returns to college to emcee the Naked Mile. I'm beginning to think a detailed backstory of his character would be mighty interesting, as we discover Mr. Levenstein was quite a BMOC back in the day.

Almost exactly 12 months after the fifth AMERICAN PIE movie went directly to DVD, here comes Number 6, 2007's AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS BETA HOUSE, which is actually a true sequel to THE NAKED MILE. It also rivals NAKED MILE in the surprisingly (but delightfully) high number of bare breasts on display. Heck, director Andrew Waller even works them into the story at film's end, just to be sure he got several dozen more on the screen.

By this point, though, and I'm not saying the boobs aren't nice, but I'm just as curious to see how the story can manage to work Eugene Levy into it. Awkwardly, actually, as Waller had to clumsily shoot around Levy in at least one scene that was probably shot after the budget had already chewed up the two days for which it could afford him. It turns out that Mr. Levenstein (Levy) is the attorney on retainer for Beta House, the fraternity to which Dwight Stifler (Talley) belongs. He also ends up emceeing the Greek Games, a long-barred competition between the Beta boys and the Geek House, who plot to get the partying Betas kicked off campus. In an odd twist on REVENGE OF THE NERDS that probably says a lot (negative) about today's society, the nerdy bookworms are the villains, and the beer-chugging BMOCs are the good guys.

Erik Stifler (White) and his buddy Cooze (Siegel) are now college freshmen pledging the Betas, which allows the writer to invent a series of gross acts for the boys to perform, most of which involve them becoming naked and embarrassing themselves. As Erik is now without a girlfriend, he finds himself falling for pretty Ashley (Meghan Heffern), who's a pretty good sport, considering Erik's inept sexuality (his MATRIX-style "bullet time" premature ejaculation stains her teddy bear and her family portrait).

The game cast seems enthusiastic and unafraid to look silly, which is a good thing. Writer Erik Lindsay (who also penned THE NAKED MILE) creates an odd DEER HUNTER parody, which is mystifying considering that nobody in the target audience has any idea what THE DEER HUNTER is (though they might enjoy Dwight and his Geek enemy playing Russian roulette with a gun containing cylinders of horse semen).

After a major "athletic" competition, based on the Greek Olympiad, that culminates in a tie-breaker where the first competitor to stain his drawers during a lap dance is declared the loser, I can't imagine where AMERICAN PIE will take us next. As long as it delivers beer and boobs, I guess I'll find out.


Anonymous said...

"Writer Erik Lindsay (who also penned THE NAKED MILE) creates an odd DEER HUNTER parody, which is mystifying considering that nobody in the target audience has any idea what THE DEER HUNTER is..."

Heh! Yeah, I'm sure these movies are never rented by middle-aged guys with a desperate interest in recapturing, even for just ninety minutes, an explicit image of youthful sexuality and vitality which is otherwise absent from 99% of the films out there. Certainly doesn't sound like anyone I know!

Thanks for the recap, Marty. I only ever saw the first AMERICAN PIE film and found it not especially funny and decidedly paltry in the skin department, especially for the type of film it allegedly aspired to be, and never bothered with any of the sequels. I admit, though, that I've cast a sideways glance at THE NAKED MILE on the rental shelves more than once - I do, after all, live in Ann Arbor, where the Naked Mile originated as a UofM tradition before the city started cracking down on it - and I figured that unless that was a completely outrageous cheater title the film would have to deliver at some level.

Still, I don't know why it hasn't occurred to the producers of these films that they could save some money on actual skin if they could find actresses willing to do jiggle. It's almost like it's become more objectionable somehow to be simply braless rather than fully topless.

Marty McKee said...

Middle-aged!?! Geez, Matt, I'm only 40! :) Really, though, I don't think Universal is making these movies for 40-year-old Cimino fans.

I think AMERICAN PIE is a very good and even sensitive movie, once you get past the kids fucking pies and all. AMERICAN PIE 2 and AMERICAN WEDDING contain some big laughs too, basically because the cast is so good, though I admit the fluid-focused humor may turn some audiences off.

If it means anything to you, Matt, rest assured that the DTV sequels, particularly THE NAKED MILE and BETA HOUSE, go whole-hog in the skin department, featuring more BPM (boobs per minute) than just about any other mainstream comedy I've ever seen. THE NAKED MILE is no cheat title, believe me.

Anonymous said...

I love how Eugene Levy's head is photochopped in on the last two covers.