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Okay, let's do something I seem to enjoy doing quite often on this site, but get yelled at a lot for doing, and that's rip on Kevin Smith. No, don't worry, Smith has nothing at all to do with AMERICAN WEDDING, but something in particular harks back to something I have criticized him for. You know how I ranted for days about how Jay and Silent Bob's characters were ruined the moment they decided to build entire stories around them? About how they were great as small supporting characters played up for humor and the occasional touching moment but were ruined the moment they were given their own starring role? Well, consider Steve Stifler the Jay of the AMERICAN PIE movies. Yes, Stifler is one of the reasons we all enjoyed the first movie. We all wanted him back for the second one, and they teased it, and then finally delivered it. And now, they've built the whole movie around him, and boy, was that a bad idea.
The first thing that happens after the formula Jim's-dad-catches-him-in-a-compromising-position sequence is a scene that plays out like that Simpsons episode where Homer joins the Itchy and Scratchy cast as a dog named Poochie. Homer suggests that when Poochie's not on screen, that everyone should sit around and talk about him. That seems to be the motif here with Stifler. They talk about how great it's going to be to have a party without him there, which tells you right away that he's about to show up. And he does. Well, sorta. Seann William Scott shows up playing a guy that everyone calls Stifler, but this is not the same Stifler that was in AP1 and AP2. This is a poorly-performed parody of that character, who takes the nuances that made him so interesting to begin with and then turns up the volume wayyy past eleven. I realize that he was a sophomoric imbecile to begin with, but there was once more to him than that. In this one, they purposely turn him into the perpetual idiot, maybe so that it will seem so much more dynamic when they redeem the character later in the movie. Oh yeah, Spoiler warning, a moment too late, but if you can't figure from moment one in this movie that a more appropriate title would be American Pie III: Stifler Makes Good then you are probably the in target audience for a website dubbed "Movie Criticism for the Retarded".
Okay, let's push the Stifler rants aside for a moment, and pretend that there is more to this movie than him. I mean, sure, there is, but they'd not mind if you forgot that. AMERICAN WEDDING serves, for the most part, as a fitting third installment to the Pie series. The breakout star of the first one, Jim, has decided to propose to his nymphomaniacal band camp refugee girlfriend, Michelle. For those who have seen the first two movies, the relationship between these two is actually something that has been so well executed that this premise alone is enough to attract people to the third movie. Alyson Hannigan is so believable in her portrayal of Michelle, regardless of how much of a charicature the character was designed to be, that she lends enough charm to actually be the only female cast member under the age of forty to survive the series. Jason Biggs, likewise, has actually made Jim go from being the awkward pervert from AP1 to actually being a well-balanced character. Yeah, he's still the bumbling Jim from AP1, but at the same time, he's growing, and is ever-so-slowly (and subtly, which I applaud the writers for) becoming more like his father, who remains one of the best parts about these movies.
Michelle herself, however, was probably never intended to be any more than a punchline in the first movie, and that comes back to bite the writers in the ass here. Michelle's character is not developed at all here, no matter how much effort Miss Hannigan puts in to it. She's still the one-dimensional nerd chick who is in love with Jim, and no forced-sounding bits of dialogue between her and Jim's dad before the wedding are able to change that. Also unable to change that is a plot device rolled out by the writers named Cadence. Cadence is Michelle's little sister and the object of shared desires by Stifler and Finch, and is used to make an attempt to further both Michelle's and Stifler's characters. It only seems to work in the case of the latter.
Part of the what's good about AMERICAN WEDDING is that it plays off the other two movies so well, but that actually may be part of its problem as well. My girlfriend, who accompanied me to the movie, had never seen the other two films, and I think she was underwhelmed by some of the gags. AMERICAN PIE's appeal was that it forgot what the rest of Hollywood was doing and went balls out in its gross-out and basic potty humor. As each sequel comes out, it necessitates topping the gags of the previous one. So when you start on part three of the series, you might take issue with some of the far-fetched and abhorrent things that happen in the film. On top of that, there were a lot of jokes and allusions that required at least a basic working knowledge of the previous films to understand. In fact, my biggest laugh-out-loud moment was the line where Finch reminds us that he in fact performed coitus with the mother of Mr. Stifler, a line that you would have to have seen the other films to fully absorb. The delivery of the line itself is what makes it work so well, but the delivery is a moot point if you don't get the allusion. Granted, even those living under rocks probably have picked up on the Stifler's mom jokes, but still, my point remains. Still, when a viewer has to explain why Stifler is calling Finch "Shitbreak" to people after the credits roll, you've missed an element somewhere.
The gags, of course, are completely over-the-top, and without spoiling too much, there were some things that even made a guy like me wince. The more memorable ones in this sequel involve shorn pubic hair, cake icing, and dog excrement. The biggest set-up gag is a doozy, stemming from a prematurely staged bachelor party which certainly pushes the boundaries if the film's "R" rating for pure raunchiness. The only dud I can think of involves a dance contest in Chicago which leads up to a pretty predictable conclusion.
A lot of people have taken issue with the fact that so many cast members passed on appearing in this sequel, but I'm not exactly crying a river over it. In fact, they could have taken the kid who plays Kevin with them, because he does absolutely nothing in this movie. I mean, really. Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, and Shannon Elizabeth all passed on offers to appear, because, you know, their careers have really taken off or something like that. Hell, I'm glad they're gone. Really, what purpose did any of them serve (other than Shannon Elizabeth) in the second AP movie, and what good would any of them do here? Klein's Oz was the least interesting of Jim's cohorts in the other movies, and his girlfriend, played by Suvari, shared his dearth of charisma there. Reid is about as interesting as used chewing gum, and even though they sort of allude to her in this one (Kevin mentions a girlfriend, but doesn't say anything beyond that), she wasn't exactly an integral cog. Lyonne would have been a good addition, but the movie's not crippled without her, and Elizabeth's Nadia was best left out of this one, lest we develop some contrived subplot involving Jim being convinced to get in one last oat sowed before he ties the knot. Sure, it would have been nice if there was an explanation as to why the gang has somehow lost all their friends without acquiring any new ones, but whatever. The only character I really missed is Chris Owen as Chuck "the Shermanator" Sherman. That says a lot. At least we got the returning Stifler's-mom-worshipping John and Justin as wedding ushers.
The explanation of the missing friends is indicative of one of the film's biggest flaws, though: Time apparently does not seem to matter in between the events of the three films. For instance, how the hell has Jim managed to date Michelle for three years without meeting her parents? I mean, I could understand had they met at college and had parents living in different states, but they attended the same high school! Even if they up and moved away after graduation, didn't Jim have to pick up Michelle for the prom? Wouldn't this girl who was perceived as a princess by her folks be expected to show them her new beau before they got this far? Has anything remotely interesting happened to any of the PIE gang, other than Stifler becoming a football coach? The only memories these guys seem to have are of events that occurred in AP1 and 2.
I went in to AMERICAN WEDDING expecting to enjoy it, and for the first thirty minutes, was grossly disappointed. After they got over their stiffy for Stifler and let the movie begin, I began slowly moving toward the positive again, but in total, this was a horrible letdown in comparison to the previous efforts. I recommend it only if you've seen the other two films. It's pretty much required viewing for those who enjoyed those movies, but I'd definitely move toward avoidance if you disliked or haven't seen the others. I know that's a copout of a recommendation, but in a way, even though I thought AMERICAN WEDDING kinda sucked, I'm glad I saw it to put the icing on the cake.
Or, in this case, the pie.
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