A few years back "American Pie" became a surprise hit for its R-rated combination of seemingly straight-talk teen-age raunch (that dude screwed a pie!) and sudsy teen-age sexual confusion (losing your virginity's a drag when feelings get involved). It struck a nerve and spun an $11 million budget into a worldwide $235 million behemoth. That begat an "American Pie 2" and an "American Wedding" in the next four years, but it took another nine whole years for "American Reunion" to come into the world. Among its scant redeeming properties are that it ought, by in any rational scenario, to put this limping franchise out of its misery for good, unless a series of "American Funeral" sequels happens along to thin the herd.
The original lineup of white bread doofi are back in this iteration, with a twist you didn't see coming: Everyone's old! Jim (Jason Biggs, looking like he's been working out his neck) and wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have fallen into the trappings of parenthood, namely, a toddler. (The rugrat figures into a ribald opening scene that reveals just how sexually frustrated the new parents are.) They're never getting any, and in a twist on the original "American" trying-to-score formula, the spouses spend the film looking for the chance for a conjugal visit. Some of the other fellows are likewise settled. Oz (Chris Klein, the poor man's Keanu) is a semi-famous sportscaster who is dating a nutty model but still has a soft spot for his high-school flame Heather (Mena Suvari). Kevin (the cloyingly tame Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a girlfriend who makes him watch the Real Housewives of something, while the mysterious, globetrotting Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has his eye on a late-blooming barmaid. Together they're an utterly forgettable bro! foursome, a nowhere-America middle-class friend clique so true to life that they'll bore you just as thoroughly as any given four shirt-tucking, cubicle-dwelling schmucks who may be seated next to you in the theater.
The exception is Seann William Scott as Stifler, who is still painfully but unapologetically stuck in his high-school years. He claims a favorite "Twilight" book in order to impress far younger women; his idea of buying a round of drinks is a tray of shots; he makes the case to Jim that because teen-agers these days know so much about sex, Jim would actually be bringing the newest techniques to the marital boudoir if he were to bed a nubile young thing. It's as though the "American Reunion" writers (there are three, including Jon Hurwitz, who also shares a directing credit with Hayden Schlossberg, the director of the "Harold & Kumar" films) saved up every decent line, every funny scene, for Stifler. With a lineup of six Stiflers, this could've been a true romp. Instead, his existence accentuates how tepid the rest of the cast really is. Aside from a can't-be-unseen encounter with a saucepan lid, every memorable moment belongs to Stifler or to Jim's dad (Eugene Levy, back for more). Worse than merely dumb or lazy, "American Reunion" is too often both, plus flat dull, to boot.
Among its lesser crimes, "American Reunion" does its best to dredge up nostalgia for an era — the late '90s — that rightly was the only casualty of Y2K. When the boys walk into the reunion dance floor, which looks like nothing more than a prom populated by actors in their mid-30s, the 1999 Lit song "My Own Worst Enemy" and its distinct hook begins playing. The audience once thought itself in on this joke: Earlier in the movie, when Jim is resisting the advances of the just-legal girl next door he used to babysit, "Wannabe," by the Spice Girls, comes on her car stereo, and she exclaims how much she loves classic rock. The lyrics here are part of the joke: "If you wanna be my lover ..." describes the scene in literal terms. So when Lit implores, "Please tell me / Please tellll meeee whyyyyyyy," as the camera pans across the room before the climactic finale, you may wonder whether the filmmakers are sending out a thinly coded cry for help.