American Pie 2 (2001)

D: James B. Rogers
S: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan

It was obvious by the final scenes of American Pie that a sequel was in the offing. It even had a built-in title: The Next Step. Well, the sequel has arrived and it is clever enough to refer to that title by having one of the characters remind us of the scene in which the words were spoken last time round, but it is not so much The Next Step as what it is: American Pie 2 - a careful retread of the original made to cash in on its success. It is lucky for director James B. Rogers and writers Adam Herz and David Steinberg that the characters created by Herz for the first adventure were so good. They are still an appealing bunch, there is still a lot of warmth and affection in them, and, incredibly, they are all played by the same actors.

Some juggling has taken place since last time though. The story picks up one year on, just as our heroes have completed their first year of college. Unfortunately, as noted, they have not quite taken that next step yet and they are still struggling with some of the same basic issues about relationships which defined them as high schoolers. Yes they have all lost their virginity now, but there is no real sense that they are 'growing up' just yet. As such, the plot follows an attempt to have one last fling at adolescence during the summer, presumably meaning that they will take the next step next time, if there is a next time (there probably will be, but you can bet they won't be taking that step...). Perhaps as much for reasons of their fame, the roles played by the various actors have been moved around in prominence. Less foregrounded this time is likable Chris Klein, the former jock who learned sensitivity enough to win Mena Suvari (American Beauty). Suvari has what amounts to a quite literal phone-in cameo while Alyson Hannigan (fresh from her ongoing labours at Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is brought more into the spotlight. The premise is that Jason Biggs (Loser), our lead from last time out, is eager to impress the returning Shannon Elizabeth (Scary Movie), and seeks Hannigan's advice. Not surprisingly, something more than casual sex develops between them. Each of the characters is given an adventure of their own, including the ubiquitous Sean William Scott (Road Trip), fast becoming an teenage dirtbag for all time, and Eddie Kaye Thomas, the latter anxiously awaiting the arrival of Scott's mother, Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show). Thomas Ian Nicholas and Tara Reid are back as well, and feature in the one plot line which promises to deliver the maturation we had hoped might be in the offing (in our dreams). Natasha Lyonne (The Slums of Beverly Hills) also returns, but despite another winning performance can not seem to break into the foreground. Incredibly, other returning cast members include Eli Marienthal as Scott's younger brother and Chris Owen as 'the Sherminator'. They have even managed to dig up John Cho and Justin Isfeld as the 'MILF guys'. Less surprising and very much welcome is Eugene Levy (Best in Show) as Biggs' well-meaning father. Molly Cheek also returns as his mom.

Yes, the plot is more an excuse to bring back this appealing and generally very good cast of actors and characters and find something for them to do. The question is is it funny? Well yes and no. There are some good gags in there, and, as before, some of them are less about cruelty and pain than they are about human foibles. Alas there are also more which are about cruelty and pain, and though some of them squeak by out of sheer sympathy for the characters, some of them don't (the urination scene is more Farrelly brothers than seems necessary and has less of a poetic justice feel to it than its equivalent 'beer' gag first time round). The situations are largely contrived, although they do lead to some yuks. The overall conceit of working towards the big party (they even found a way to bring back Casey Affleck as Nicholas' older brother to give sage advice which sets this in motion), is really thin though, and as such it feels more like a cynical attempt to replicate the structural dynamic of the first film than a legitimate comic narrative. There is an inevitable feeling of deja-vu therefore, and so while often mildly funny, the film is never as laugh-out-loud funny as its predecessor in spite of the best efforts of the entire cast.

On the balance, American Pie 2 just about gets away with it. It is disappointing, yes, but inevitably so. There was never a world in which the sequel would really have taken its characters to the next level and found ways to explore their responses to a more adult world with equal warmth and humour. The TV series Friends has taken seven seasons to even begin to move on from the pilot, and though the characters in TV's Beverly Hills 90210 have gone from high school to the boardroom, there is still nothing adult about anything they do. In an environment defined by this kind of arrested development, this film was only ever going to be a cookie cutter sequel. Its strongest card is that the cutter was so good in the first place. Let it rest at this, Adam, please.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.