American Pie

Review by Adam Blair

Directed by Paul Weitz, Produced by Chris Weitz
Screenplay by Adam Herz
With Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Alyson Hannigan, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy

Rated R, 95 minutes. (1999)

It's refreshing, if not exactly revolutionary, for a mainstream Hollywood movie to acknowledge that males bring a carload of anxieties to the sexual arena. Despite its teen-sex-comedy plot, American Pie is at least honest enough to acknowledge that, for all their professed eagerness to get laid, teenage boys are often scared witless about the prospect of actually having sex with another human being.

The marketing campaign for American Pie is trying to push it as this summer's raunchy sex comedy, and in many ways it fulfills that promise. Its plot certainly fits the mold: four horny teenage boys, a few weeks shy of graduation, vow to leave high school with their diplomas but without their virginity (virginities?). Of course, humiliation, degradation and frustration - always good for a laugh, especially if you're safely past the age of your own teenage fumblings - ensue.

While this summary might lead you to expect something like Porky's or a looser, more explicit Risky Business, American Pie is closer in spirit to last year's summer comedy hit, There's Something About Mary, which also squeezed humor out of male sexual fears, from castration to homosexual panic. Pie comes in much lower on the raunch-o-meter than Mary, despite what you may have heard about one character's intimate encounter with a baked good generally associated with Mom and baseball. Pie is also shorter on the belly laughs than the crude, cruel Mary, but it does display a fair amount of wit and a fun, genial spirit.

This despite the fact that like Mary, and unlike the 1980s-era sex comedies, Pie is more about the dangers of sex than the fun. For example, Jim (Jason Biggs) tries to fulfill a Penthouse Forum-style fantasy (beautiful Czech exchange student - read sexually available/sophisticated - comes to his house and changes her clothes in his room). Jim, who has been persuaded to share his incredible good fortune by sending a live feed of the striptease to a few friends via the Internet, ends up broadcasting his own sexual inadequacies to the entire school.

It's also telling that Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), the character who would seem to be in the least need of peer group support to have sex (he already has a steady girlfriend, played by Tara Reid), is not only the instigator of the anti-virginity pact, he also works the hardest to keep it going despite the travails and humiliations it brings to all his friends. Plainly put, the prospect of sex - and all that it implies about change in a relationship - scares him, and he's looking for the support of his friends.

Pie's best feature is in showing that some teenage girls are at least as horny, and certainly a few degrees hipper, than the guys. At opposite ends of the geekiness scale, Alyson Hannigan (from TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Natasha Lyonne (who was excellent in last year's underrated female coming-of-age flick Slums of Beverly Hills) both know the score and know how to score. Hannigan is especially funny as the ultimate band nerd who has found some interesting uses for her flute.

It's also nice to see Eugene Levy, of the late great SCTV, trying to dispense fatherly wisdom to son Jim without either of them dying of embarrassment.

The movie is by no means perfect. With a few exceptions the actors are too bland to overcome their assigned types (jock, nice guy, pseudo-sophisticate, nerd) with more than a few hints of individuality. They attend a TV-style high school, where even the losers look well-scrubbed, and even the best jokes are dragged out long enough to induce a few cringes along with the laughs.

Pie is attempting a tough balancing act - just enough outrageous sexual and bathroom humor for the adolescents who will see it despite its R rating, but with a few touches of sensitivity and romance to appeal to older and/or female audiences. But it's a difficult feat to make a raunchy sex comedy that's also a date movie, and Pie sometimes loses its way as it chases too many demographics.

(This article originally appeared in Films in Review, www.filmsinreview.com)

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