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American Reunion 

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★★★

Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy. Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

No one could really be blamed for having thought the American Pie franchise was a dead dog. The original 1999 film, of course, made a splash with its crass-yet-sweet sex comedy (and perhaps kicked off the ensuing trend of crass sex comedies that so often forget the sweetness), but it was followed by two lackluster sequels and a slew of direct-to-video spinoffs. Now nine years after the last proper main-cast Pie movie, a new creative team–Harold and Kumar's Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg–have arrived with a new Pie story that feels like a labor of love instead of another cash-grab turn of the franchise crank. Sure, it's dumb and the sex jokes are endless, but this installment also carries honesty and–dare I say it?–a touch of maturity.

The film finds East Great Falls High's class of '99 coming back together for a class reunion. It's the same old group of faces, just all grown up and in very different places. Straight man Jim (Biggs) is married to Michelle (Hannigan), with a child. Gentle jock Oz (Klein) is a big-shot sportscaster with an out-of-control young girlfriend (Katrina Bowden). Sophisticated Finch (Thomas) is a globetrotting man of the world. Confident Kevin (Nicholas) is a somewhat hen-pecked husband. And party-boy Stifler (Scott) is...well, still a party boy, except he now works for a temp agency.

It seems like everyone has it pretty much together, but naturally there are roiling insecurities and problems at hand for the gang. Jim and Michelle's sex life is suffering. Oz still has feelings for his old girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid). Stifler needs to get laid. And of course, those problems crash into each other for a while and find a way of resolving themselves as the reunion festivities go on. Shenanigans abound in between. You know where this is going. But Hurwitz and Schlossberg load the script not only with the franchise's trademark–constant hit-or-miss sex jokes–but also a true love for the Pie characters and some genuine wisdom.

Don't forget, besides the pie-fucking, the original film had some surprising moments of honesty. More than just a film about kids trying to have sex, it dug into what trying to have sex is always really about: trying to learn how to live life as an adult. And 10-plus years later, like any other set of 30-somethings, Hurwitz and Schlossberg show us the same characters still trying, yes, to have sex, but also to figure out their lives. As in the original, many of the characters are quite endearing; besides just laughing at the fucking, pooping, etc., we sympathize with their struggles.

There are some scenes that fall flat, mostly out of a lack of editing-room discretion. A lengthy sequence involving the touchy aftermath of a rowdy high-school party drags on, with far too many escalations of the ensuing hijinks. It's a common symptom in this film, which should have been trimmed a little more to match the leaner plot momentum of the original. But Hurwitz and Schlossberg work hard to stock the film with development and follow-through for almost all the sprawling original cast, as well as entertaining return appearances for some more obscure characters.

A masterpiece this isn't. But it feels like Hurwitz, Schlossberg and the whole cast were having a whole lot of fun. It's often funny, it's surprisingly smart about adulthood and it feels like a genuine creative endeavor. American Reunion ain't Shakespeare. But it's an American Pie film, and for the first time since 1999 and a whopping seven ensuing sequels/spinoffs, it's actually pretty good at being just that and maybe even a little more. —Patrick Dunn

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