Rated R, 95 min. Directed by Jesse Dylan. Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, January Jones, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge.
Jesse Dylan’s first feature was the ganja-infused comedy How High, which, while not exactly a high-bongwater mark in the annals of stoner merriment, managed to keep my dog fixated on the TV screen the other day, a feat even Animal Planet fails to accomplish all that often. As late-night comedy fodder, it fell short of Friday but managed to ace Half Baked, so when I noticed that Dylan (brother to Jakob, son of Bob) was at the helm of this third and final installment to the successful American Pie trilogy, I was naturally curious to see if his goofball touch would translate to the more precocious Pie storyline. It’s a mixed bag, actually, and while it’s hardly the train wreck that is so often the case with third acts, American Wedding clearly suffers from a lack of good gags. That’s not to say there aren’t scads of chuckles scattered throughout – Dylan and his cast are nothing if not gluttons for the fast and cheap yuk (not to mention yuck) – but the howls of laughter that arose from Paul and Chris Weitz’s original slice of Pie just aren’t there. Too often the comedy feels forced, the setups strained, and the payoffs just not as funny as they were back lo those many years ago in 1999. (James Rogers, who directed American Pie 2, had a hard enough time maintaining the Weitz’s canny mix of teen pathos and sex farce in 2001, and Dylan rarely even manages that.) As the title implies, Jason Biggs’ Jim Levenstein is slated to marry his band-camp paramour Michelle (Hannigan, fresh off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). As a plot device, it’s a smart choice – Hannigan’s sunny redhead earnestness and Biggs’ mastery of piping-hot foodstuffs are two of the series’ most appealing conceits. Biggs long ago mastered the realm of Joe Average hamstrung by circumstance, and Hannigan is always a pleasure to watch no matter what role she’s in. Jim’s buddies are back, too: the bookish Finch (Thomas), straight man Kevin (Nicholas), and crude, lewd, abrasively hilarious Stifler (Scott), as well as Christopher Guest regulars Willard, Levy, and Coolidge as various parents. American Wedding’s script, from series screenwriter Adam Herz, places Stifler, now a varsity football coach, at the center of the proceedings and has his wily horndog square off against the more refined (but no less scheming) Finch for the attentions of Michelle’s sister Cadence, and, in an inspired running gag, has the two of them switch tactics in their wooing, with Finch peppering his every pronouncement with curses and Stifler donning Izods and dropping poorly conceived Voltaire references. And then, of course, somebody eats some dog poop. Comedy! The characters may be the same, but American Wedding has the feel of a franchise on its last legs. Where the original by the Weitz brothers (who went on to direct the superlative Nick Hornby adaptation About a Boy) had a good-natured if salacious charm to it, Jesse Dylan’s film relies far more heavily on the lewd and crude leftovers. Which isn’t to say I didn’t laugh out loud a few times, but really, there’s only so much comedy to be wrung from Stifler’s mom.
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