The early 1980s were the time of Reagan conservatism, Cabbage Patch dolls and Michael Jackson. Despite or because of that, the era's cinema will most be remembered for the plethora of horror films hoping to capitalize on the popularity of "Halloween" (such as "Friday the 13th," "The Fog," "Prom Night," "Terror Train," and many, many others), as well as the emergence of the raunchy teen sex comedy genre that followed the success of 1981's "Porky's."
Although some of those films were simply nothing but copycat versions of that hormone-laden movie, others -- while still containing the requisite naked ladies, horny boys and obvious sexual content -- actually had some depth to them. The best was obviously 1983's "Risky Business" -- with Tom Cruise who had also appeared in another such film, "Losin' It" -- but others, such as 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," also tried and succeeded at adding a bit more substance beyond the simple T & A material.
Since then, however, the teen sex comedy has all but disappeared, with the latest genre replacement being the gross out comedy perpetuated by the success of last year's "There's Something About Mary." As with all trends, though, things are cyclical, and with the recent return of the teen-based horror films (such as "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," etc...) it was inevitable that it wouldn't be long before the teen sex comedy would reappear.
It clearly has with the release of "American Pie," a comedy about teenage boys wishing to lose their virginity, and the many sexually related escapades that occur along the way to their goal. Not only does this film resurrect the long dormant genre, but its filmmakers have also thrown in a moderate mix of gross-out material, obviously hoping to hedge their bets by capitalizing on "Mary's" surprising success.
As such, and just like "Mary," the film certainly doesn't offer much in an artistic sense, but does have some decent laughs. It will best be remembered, however, for a number of outrageous "set pieces" that will undoubtably please its target audience of teens and early twenty-somethings, but may prove to be a bit too much for older audiences.
Among them is the now seemingly requisite male bodily fluid scene (which was beaten to the punch by a somewhat similar scene in the latest "Austin Powers" film) and a long sequence involving the Internet, a wide-eyed boy and a comely and curvaceous foreign exchange student (a typical teen male's fantasy figure who never existed in my high school days). Of course, there's the titular subject and its nontraditional use that isn't quite as funny as one might anticipate, especially since the previews have already ruined the joke.
There are a few others, but director Paul Weitz and screenwriter Adam Herz (both making their feature film debut) seem to have sensed that such material -- while the stuff of which studios love to promote for luring in audiences -- couldn't carry the picture by itself. Thus, and despite the studio's publicity department playing up such "raunchiness," the picture isn't completely filled to the brim with such material. Instead, it actually has a somewhat more charming story scurrying about underneath its more obvious elements.
That's not to say that such plot pieces are innocent or innocuous -- they're still sex-related -- but by the time the film enters its third act, you may actually find yourself partially liking some of the characters and/or caring about their predicaments. That particularly applies to the character played by Chris Klein (who embodied the somewhat dimwitted candidate in "Election"). Looking and acting like a young Keanu Reeves (whether the latter is intentional or not is unclear), Klein gives off such a disarming charm that you can't help but begin to like his character, especially when he begins to see the error of his ways.
The three other young actors -- Jason Biggs (TV's "As The World Turns"), Thomas Ian Nicholas ("Rookie of the Year") and Eddie Kaye Thomas ("The Rage: Carrie 2") -- while having a few decent moments and superficial differences, don't make as much of an impression. While Biggs appears in the biggest of the set pieces, Thomas delivers a fun, late in the film sendup of Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate."
The ladies are bit more developed than in the old traditional sex comedy, but don't take that to mean that all of them have been moved too far off the sex pedestal. While up and coming actress Shannon Elizabeth is present only to fulfill the sexpot role and Alyson Hannigan (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is there as the stereotypical band geek (with a surprising sexual twist), Mena Suvari ("The Rage: Carrie 2"), Natasha Lyonne ("Slums of Beverly Hills") and Tara Reid ("Urban Legend") fare a little better with characters who at least have some depth to them.
Nonetheless, the latter two don't do much more than reprise similar roles (and dialogue) delivered by Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Beyond all of the, the film's supporting performances are okay, with Jennifer Coolidge ("A Night at the Roxbury") doing her "Mrs. Robinson" sendup, and Eugene Levy (TV's defunct "SCTV") stealing every scene in which he appears as the well-meaning, but extremely embarrassing dad.
Simply put, if you're in the mood for a teenage sex comedy, this film certainly delivers the required goods. Beyond that, there's a smattering of other funny moments and a halfway decent story trying to come out from under the shadow of the other material. While it never makes it into the spotlight, such material does give the film a bit more depth than what one might ordinarily expect.
Although the film won't play as well to mainstream audiences as did "There's Something About Mary" -- since its characters are younger and its gross-out material isn't as novel or outrageous -- it does offer a few big laughs and should entertain those who don't mind the subject matter. As such, we give "American Pie" a 4.5 out of 10.