by Jeff Schultz on April 24, 2012

When it was released in July 1999, “American Pie” left its imprint on our culture, suggesting new uses for apple pie or a flute, popularizing the term MILF (introducing a new genre to the porn business) and ushering in the “unrated version” DVD phenomena.

More importantly, the film tempered the gross-out comedy trend of “There’s Something About Mary,” “Austin Powers,” and “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut,” proving raunchy could be funny without being crude. The relatable tale of four guys trying to end their virginities before graduation made us love the characters more than the laughs. The latest sequel to that film, “American Reunion,” carries that same tone as the characters finally come to terms with growing up.

All four ex-virgins return to East Great Falls High for a class reunion, and so has much of the original cast — Nadia, Heather, Vicki, the “Shermanator,” the MILF guys, Jim’s Dad and Stifler’s mom. The film introduces new characters Selena, an unnoticed classmate whose looks have improved over the years, and Kara, the next door neighbor Jim once babysat who is now celebrating her 18th birthday. Like any high school reunion, it’s awkward catching up, and keeping in contact is a chore – Jim and Michelle now have a 2-year old son, Kevin is a homemaker/architect, Finch is an exotic thrill seeker, Oz is a sports commentator who suffered a humiliating loss on a “Dancing With the Stars”-type show, and poor Stifler, the supreme god of high school parties, works as the office bitch at an investment firm.

The film tries on a few new subplots that don’t seem to fit too well in the beginning. Kara’s revealed schoolgirl crush on Jim at her party makes us wonder where the story is going as Stifler puts pressure on the gang to jump in bed with the new generation of high-schoolers. After all, this is “American Pie,” and ethical boundaries are not too thick. Then there is another naughty diversion with Oz’s new nympho girlfriend who may just be up for a little partner swap when he runs into his high school girlfriend and her current beau.  It’s not certain whether the regard we have for these characters will be sustained by the end of the film as the fellas mix in with the new generation of high-schoolers.

As an admirer of the characters, I was glad to see the screenwriters use these icky, awkward situations as a way of maturing the characters in the film by moving them out of the past and making them realizing adulthood is their salvation. Jim and Michelle work out a marriage problem; Jim comforts his dad in the sudden death of a relative; Finch has his first real relationship with a rediscovered schoolmate; Oz chooses true love over fame; and Stifler, although dragging his feet, sheds his “Stifmeister” persona.

The quiet scenes surprised me by being better than the funny scenes. The script recycles jokes we’ve seen from the first three entries in the “Pie” series. The screenwriters plucked many of the sequences from the first movie and previous sequels: everyone still remembers when Jim’s hormones were a little too early for Nadia in the legendary webcast (the encounter has now been uploaded to YouTube), The “Shermanator” scans the room for babes, the gang has to hide in awkward poses trying to sneak a topless girl into her house with her parents home (similar to the “lesbian” scene in “American Pie 2”) and Stifler’s mom reignites the cougar inside her. The fact that this is a high school reunion vindicates sharing old anecdotes, as that’s what you are supposed to do at such an event. But whatever “American Reunion” lacks in original humor, it makes up for with heart.

“American Reunion” brings the series to the right place and sweetens the sour taste the previous episode, “American Wedding,” left in our mouths. It restores the hidden message that as times change, friendship remains a powerful thing. This “Pie” may have been sitting out for a while, but it still provides infinite sustenance for the horny teenager in all of us. For America, it’s the high school party that never ends.

Jeff Schultz is a reporter for “The Chesterton Tribune” in Northwest Indiana and former editor-in-chief of “The Purdue Review.” He is also co-host of The Eclectic Blender on WVLP, 98.3 FM and wvlp.org Wednesday nights.

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