AMERICAN PIE

R

-By Chris Grunden


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Brother filmmaking teams seem to be hitting the zeitgeist lately, with the Farrellys (There's Something About Mary) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix) lucratively carrying on the Cohns' proud tradition. With American Pie, brothers Chris and Paul Weitz (Antz's screenwriters) have concocted a modestly budgeted producer/director debut that is headed for classic status a la Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the granddaddy of all horny male sex comedies, Animal House.

American Pie's refreshingly unabashed R-rated tone is set by a pre-credit sequence which finds Michigan teen Jim (Jason Biggs) caught by his parents in the act of masturbating. The opening credits are immediately preceded by his erection's unveiling. From there, we meet Jim's fellow frustrated virgin buddies, who make a pact to lose It by graduation, proclaiming, 'No longer will our penises remain flaccid and unused. This is our day!' In his quest for sexual awakening, Jim's close and personal encounter with an apple pie is sure to enter the teenage all-time pantheon, and is followed by a hilariously embarrassing erotic interlude with Euro sex bomb Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), which his classmates check out live on the Internet. Election's talented, studly Chris Klein is Oz, or, as he likes to be called, 'Nova,' short for 'Casanova,' a not terribly bright lacrosse star who's dense enough to think that saying 'Suck me, beautiful' will be sufficient to seduce a college-girl date whose major is post-modern feminist thought. Oz finds his sensitive side by joining the school chorus, an 'untapped resource' for chicks, where he meets shy charmer Heather (played affectingly by Mena Suvari). Then there's Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols), who's stuck on third base with his blonde-beauty girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid), who's ready to give it up if he'll just say he loves her. Finally, enigmatic Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a wry, thinking-man's outsider to his more conventional buddies. His prom-night encounter with an older woman, in a homage to The Graduate, is one of the film's high points.

American Pie's focus is certainly on all things bodily (including a semen scene that attempts to top the one in There's Something About Mary), but the film is more than just a crude-minded romp aimed at the male libido. In fact, the Weitzes, with screenwriter Adam Herz, have cleverly captured all the nostalgia, fear and humor associated with adolescent sex, or lack thereof. Jim aptly speaks for his pals when he frustratingly remarks 'I haven't had sex and already I can't stand it!' The film is also wise to give real weight to its female characters, all of whom squarely hold the reins in terms of when and if the guys will get lucky. American Pie's biggest asset is its shrewd casting--the leading male and female quartets are all terrific. Jason Biggs, who's something like a less tiresomely cloying David Schwimmer, is especially endearing, and Alyson Hannigan, as his band-geek date for the prom, nearly steals the movie. Tops among the supporting players is Eugene Levy, who brings down the house as Jim's dad, the matter-of-fact provider of sexual counsel and porno mags. Seann W. Scott appears to have been born to play Stifler, an insensitive jock who has no trouble scoring chicks at his cool keg parties. Dry-witted Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills) is on hand to point out to Vicky that 'it's not a space-shuttle launch, it's sex,' but her character is ultimately somewhat underutilized. And finally, mega-geek Sherman is played with gleeful abandon by Chris Owen. It's Sherman's improbable claim to have scored which sets the foursome's pact in motion.

In its quest to appeal to both sexes, the film reaches for some saccharine moments that come off less successfully, but the largely teenage preview audience I saw the film with had the right attitude toward them--they made fun of the mushy scenes until the laughs returned. With its winning young cast, carefree politically incorrect stance and properly trendy soundtrack (thankfully free of Don McLean's hit), American Pie, which is expected to be this summer's sleeper hit (never mind the incongruity in that), is manna from Hollywood for teens and twenty-somethings.

--Chris Grunden


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