At some point, there were meetings about American Reunion. Harried development executives whose primo parking spaces depend on box office receipts actually sat down and had serious, grown-up conversations about the fourth and, God willing, final film in the 13-year-old franchise. My mind wandered a bit during the seemingly interminable wasteland that makes up Reunion’s second act, so I had time to speculate about this meeting. I decided it went like this:
Development Exec #1—for the sake of my narrative, I named him Kevin—slaps the script down on the table and says, “Let’s do this! Let’s make this movie.”
Development Exec #2, who hasn’t finished reading the script yet, says, “So the characters are, like, 30 now, and they’re still completely obsessed with getting laid and partying and making their friends think they’re cool? That’s not funny. It’s creepy and kind of depressing.”
But Kevin sticks to his guns. “Yeah, but, see, there are these douchey kids who are stand-ins for the younger versions of Jim and his buddies. The kids steal some ladies’ swimsuit tops, so Stifler takes a big dump in their beer cooler!”
And Exec #2 relents. After all, he’s been in this business since Tuesday. He knows comedy gold when he sees it, and poop, my friends, is comedy gold.
Or maybe that’s not how it happened at all. Maybe Hollywood just has a giant, evil supercomputer programmed to spit out sequels that are entertaining enough to justify their own existence to franchise fans, but just barely. Either way, American Reunion feels more like a last gasp than a grand hurrah. It has some laughs and even a few sweetly poignant moments, but it never recaptures the raunchy (and admittedly dubious) charms of 1999’s American Pie.
Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), who exchanged vows in 2003’s American Wedding, are parents now, and their sex life is none the better for it. Following the birth of their son, the two have abandoned marital intimacy in favor of retreating to their separate masturbatory corners. They soon load up the car and head to their hometown for their 13th high-school reunion (is that even a thing?), and Jim is suckered into a guys’ weekend with his old pals, each of whom is caught up in his own desperate attempt to recapture his fading youth. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a happily married architect, but he soon finds himself wrestling with an attraction to his high-school sweetheart Vicky (Tara Reid). Oz (Chris Klein), now a sportscaster and reality-television star, is living it up with his supermodel girlfriend, but he’s more interested in stealing old flame Heather (Mena Suvari) away from her jerky, cardiologist boyfriend. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) impresses his buddies with tales of his globe-trotting adventures, and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still just Stifler. He might be a manchild trapped in a dead-end job, but he’s always on hand for gross-out jokes and wacky hijinks.
The guys try their best to be the carefree idiots they were in high school, but adulthood keeps getting in the way. Their old party spots have been taken over by a new generation of kids, and their desperate attempts to recapture their youth frequently end in embarrassment. But just when things should get funny, Reunion downshifts into a barrage of predictable jokes and dull, often maudlin ruminations on the fleeting nature of youth. Some of the randy humor works—Eugene Levy has some good moments as Jim’s widowed dad—but most of it falls flat.
But if Reunion is brainless—and trust me, it is—it isn’t heartless. Even as it wheezes from one desperate grab for laughs to the next, it’s too good-natured to inspire any real rancor. The film rallies a bit in its third act and ends on a fairly satisfying note, but it’s not enough to make up for the string of tired antics and flat one-liners that comprise most of the running time.
Harold & Kumar franchise vets Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote and directed the film, have certainly proven their point, but probably not in the way they intended. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t go back. And to prove it, here’s a dull, unfunny and accidentally depressing installment in a franchise whose best years are clearly behind it.