With memories of "Porkys 2: The Next Day" and "Revenge of the Nerds 2," not to mention the recent "Scary Movie 2," just a few nightmares away, sequels to raunchy teen comedies have never been successful. In fact, most have come off as downright embarrassments. "American Pie 2," directed by J.B. Rogers (2001's "Say It Isn't So") and starring the entire cast of the original 1999 hit, manages to not only break the curse, but also surpass its predecessor in both the laugh and pacing departments.
It's the end of their freshman year at college, and best friends Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) have returned to their hometown of Anne Arbor to begin a summer of fun. Moving into a beach house along the shores of Lake Michigan with wiseguy Stifler (Seann William Scott) in tow, they plan to make the most of their vacation, earning a painting job to pay the rent, but otherwise settling down to party hard and score big.
While some of their relationships have changed, others haven't. When Jim gets a surprise call from the gorgeous Czechoslovakian chick Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), whom he still harbors a crush on, promising him that she will visit before summer's end, he starts to fear that he won't be good enough in the sack for her. Tracking down his flute-toting, high school prom date, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), at Twin Oaks Band Camp, he enlists in her help to prepare him for his big moment with Nadia. Meanwhile, Oz has begun an attempt at phone sex with girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari), who is traveling abroad through Europe; Finch has begun practicing the art of tantra while awaiting the return of the elusive Stifler's Mom (Jennifer Coolidge); and Kevin is learning how to stay friends with ex-girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid).
Without the original's gimmick of everyone in a pact to lose their virginity by prom night, "American Pie 2" is a looser, more natural slice-of-life that is able to focus on the characters as they try to fulfill what they had promised each other a year ago--to be able to move on to "the next step." Some things die hard, however, as the quintet of male friends are as horny as ever, with sex on the brain 24/7.
The comically lewd set-pieces in which the story is placed around are even more funny than they were in the first film, as their setup and payoff are depicted with high energy and a flare for tonally flawless editing. One such scene, in which Jim picks the wrong lubricant to masturbate with, piles on one mishap after the next to create such an uproariously rising laughter that the dialogue will likely be drowned out in a crowded theater (the perfect way to see such a movie). And another sequence, in which the guys are caught snooping around their hot neighbors' house, only to have the tables turned on them as they trade a man-on-man sex act for a glimpse of lesbian action, is utterly hysterical.
What differentiated "American Pie" from the spate of similar teen raunch-fests was the underlying sweetness of the characters and their various romances. "American Pie 2" is no different, and the film would surely not be successful without likable protagonists and honest, true-to-life situations that come out of their relationships. The most winning thing about the picture is easily the burgeoning feelings that arise between sexual amateur Jim and band geek Michelle, who might just be the perfect match for each other.
Not only is it a rarity to have a sequel that surpasses the first one, but it is even more scarce to have the whole cast, including the inconsequential minor character, return for a second helping. Somehow, director J.B. Rogers has managed just that. Each actor, all of which have shot to greater fame in the past two years, fit back into their singular roles with ease, and they all look to be having a grand time.
Jason Biggs (2001's "Saving Silverman"), as the central Jim, is more winning than he's ever been, and completely jumps into the physical comedy, no matter how humiliating the circumstance. Seann William Scott (2001's "Evolution") has had his smart-alecky role of Stifler increased, no doubt due to popular demand, and he is a delight--in a dickheaded sort of way. Eddie Kaye Thomas (2001's "Freddy Got Fingered") is also charismatic as the slightly dorky, forever serious, Finch. Rounding out the guys are Thomas Ian Nicholas (2000's "Cutaway"), as Kevin, and Chris Klein (2001's "Say It Isn't So"), as Oz, who have less to do. Lest we not forget, Eugene Levy is also back with a vengeance as Jim's overly understanding dad.
With the exception of the incredibly charming Alyson Hannigan (2000's "Boys and Girls"), as Michelle, and Shannon Elizabeth (2001's "Tomcats"), as Nadia, the females have seen their parts notably reduced. Hannigan is without a doubt the standout. Set up as more of a punchline in the original, Hannigan gets to develop the alternately sweet and lascivious Michelle into a full-rounded character and love interest, and she sparkles with every second she is onscreen. Elizabeth has also improved both her performance and accent as the Eastern European Nadia, who turns out to have a very tenderhearted, playful side behind her gorgeous looks. In smaller parts, Tara Reid (2001's "Josie and the Pussycats"), as Vicky; Natasha Lyonne (2001's "Scary Movie 2"), as the frank, know-it-all Jessica; and Mena Suvari (2001's "Sugar & Spice"), as Heather, are sadly underutilized, and more could have been done with these memorable characters.
When it comes to sheer, unadulterated laughs, one couldn't hope for much more than "American Pie 2." Somehow, everything has fallen into place to create not so much a rehash, but a continuation of these lovable characters' lives. Screenwriter Adam Herz keeps things moving fast with one zany moment after the next, but doesn't forget about the people in which they involve. That is really the key to the burgeoning "American Pie" series, after all--go for broke when it comes to envelope-pushing comedy, but set aside just enough time to sympathize and care about Jim and his roundup of friends. Could "American Pie 3" not be far off? After the highly enjoyable, superior "American Pie 2," it doesn't seem like such a horrible idea.
©2001 by Dustin Putman