[Screen It]

(2003) (Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott) (R)

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Comedy: Various friends must deal with the crude and outrageous behavior of one guy in their group as they prepare for a wedding between two of them.
Having known each other for several years, Jim (JASON BIGGS) and Michelle (ALYSON HANNIGAN) have decided to tie the knot, much to the joy of Jim's parents (EUGENE LEVY and MOLLY CHEEK). As the wedding day approaches, Jim has still yet to pick between close friends Finch (EDDIE KAYE THOMAS) and Kevin (THOMAS IAN NICHOLAS) as his best man, but it certainly won't be their long-time acquaintance Stifler (SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT). In fact, he's not even invited to the wedding for fear that his crude and rude ways will ruin the event.

With Michelle's parents, Harold (FRED WILLARD) and Mary Flaherty (DEBORAH RUSH) arriving along with their other daughter Cadence (JANUARY JONES) - who draws the competing romantic attention of Finch and Stifler - everyone prepares for the big event. Yet, when Stifler gets himself invited and Jim's grandmother (ANGELA PATON) objects to the union, it's only a matter of time before things get comedically out of control.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Don't you just hate it when "friends" completely upstage you when you're trying to be funny or entertain others? Worse yet is when they end up messing up some big event with what they think is funny behavior. Such types naturally appear in the movies as comic foils and often end up stealing the show despite playing second banana to the primary characters.

Such was the case in "American Pie" and especially its numbered sequel. In those films, the wild-eyed, mischievous and devil-may-care character of Steve Stifler - played to full comedic hilt by Seann William Scott ("Bulletproof Monk," "Evolution") -- stole every scene he was in, often with very funny if crude and/or obscene results.

That trend - along with a great deal of similar material that made the first two films so popular with their target audience - continues in "American Wedding" (a title that makes you wonder if there will be "American Baby," "American Midlife Crisis a.k.a. "American Beauty" and finally "American Retirement Party").

Rude, crude, fitfully funny and occasionally rather hilarious, the film is far from being a great comedy, what with its pedestrian plot, direction and acting. Yet, director Jesse Dylan ("How High"), who works from a script by returning scribe Adam Herz, manages to get in enough amusing, funny and/or outrageous moments that the effort isn't a complete waste of time. That is, along as you don't mind the nature of the material or that this one's lack of "drama" makes the first entry seem Shakespearean in comparison.

Following the formula that fueled the first two efforts (but jettisoning much of the filler), Dylan and company use a lackluster script as a flimsy structure upon which to mount the film's various signature set pieces.

In short, Scott's Stifler does his normal loose cannon shtick, Eugene Levy ("A Mighty Wind," "Bringing Down the House") always arrives in the middle of some sexually embarrassing moment - usually involving Jason Biggs' ("Saving Silverman," "Loser") character and then going off on a frank discussion about sexual matters - and raging hormones rule the day (although even that is toned down this time around).

Such repetition and/or recycling is par for the course for a sequel (especially one past the second entry). Yet, the filmmakers put enough of a fresh spin on the material that the target audience at our preview screening ate it up with uproarious laughter.

Much of it follows the standard if coarse farce category, like an episode of "Three's Company" on steroids meeting the crudity of the Farrelly Brothers' offerings. Most notable is a misdirection/mistaken identity and intention bit involving Jim, his future in-laws, his friends, two strippers and a gay man in seat-less leather chaps who tells the shocked adults his name is "Mr. Belvedere" (after the TV sitcom).

Others involve two guys and two dogs in a mistaken bestiality gag, some shaved pubic hair and a chocolate "truffle" that's about the last thing you'd want to put in your mouth (yet ends up there anyway). The material is obviously vulgar and of the lowest common denominator variety, and those who didn't like the same the first two times around clearly won't be swayed by what this one has to offer. Conversely, if you enjoyed such previous shenanigans, you'll probably have a similar reaction here.

Performances are of the quality that's to be expected for a second sequel (especially where the acting wasn't noteworthy) with everyone pretty much retreading what they've previously done with hints of age-seasoned maturity occasionally thrown in for good measure.

Beyond Biggs and Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas ("Stolen Summer," "Black And White") and Thomas Ian Nicholas ("The Rules of Attraction," "Rookie of the Year") reprise their roles, but Chris Klein and Chris Owen (Oz and Sherman) are no-shows.

Fred Willard ("A Mighty Wind," "How High") and Deborah Rush ("Bad Company," "Three to Tango") join the ensemble as the future in-laws, while January Jones ("Anger Management," "Bandits") joins Alyson Hannigan ("Boys and Girls," TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") in representing what's left of the female side (Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne and Shannon Elizabeth's characters are MIA). Willard and Thomas have some funny responses, but the rest aren't particularly memorable. Eric Allen Kramer ("High School High," "True Romance"), on the other hand, has some amusing moments as the "Belvedere" character.

Pretty much what you'd expect for a sequel to the first two "American Pie" films but less filling since there's very little plot, this effort doesn't take enough advantage of the wedding scenario as comic fodder. Nor do all of the bits work, even on the low level on which they're operating.

Even so, there are enough guilty pleasure laughs to be had - as long as you don't find the material objectionable - that fans of the series probably won't be disappointed. Knowing full well what it wants to do and be, "American Wedding" mostly succeeds at just that. It rates as a 4 out of 10, simply for making me laugh rather hard several times, something other "comedies" often fail at miserably.

Reviewed July 29, 2003 / Posted August 1, 2003

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