American Wedding, something old, something tired

Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 9:10 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 9:10 a.m.

The sleeper character of the first ``American Pie'' is the de facto star of the third installment. As crude and unimaginative as it is, ``American Wedding'' happens to be a bonanza for Seann William Scott, who's become a cult figure playing the insatiably horny jock, bully, and dork Steve Stifler.

One of the most touching television viewing experiences I've had this year was watching Scott try to score during ``Seann William Scott's 24 Hour Spring Break.'' MTV gave him one day to find a girl who'd make out with him. He drank himself silly and found someone who, probably, was not as fast as he needed her to be. His despair for a kiss was heartbreaking, more so because he couldn't go anywhere in Miami without some dude or some posse of dudes screaming ``Stifler!'' as he tried to down tequila and pitch woo. He's become a hero to every frat boy in the country, and you could see his rep had begun to hurt his game.

``American Wedding'' only reupholsters the legend of Stifler, who's now a football coach at his Michigan high school and is banned from attending the nuptials of Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan). Stifler's a Heartland boy with such a roiling superego that he surmounts his homophobia by engaging in a gay nightclub dance-off, after a burly guy called Bear (Eric Allan Kramer) tells Stifler he's not attracted to him. It's the funniest sequence in the movie. (And, alas, more sound than the moment in which Stifler has to eat dog droppings.) In addition to its overall surrealism - both men appear to be copping moves from ``Showgirls'' - it also suggests that the series' social and sexual progressiveness lies with its most obscene lout. Under the circumstances, that qualifies as a political statement.

The opening bit, in which Jim tries popping the question while Michelle offers under-the-table pleasure at a restaurant, is cut-rate stuff that ends the way most nightmares do. These movies swear they're exploring sex and demystifying the male body, but they double as incredibly effective scare tactics for America's virgins. It's just as easy to think of all three pictures as horror films. The brunt of the movie's sexual terrorizing is done by Biggs's character: see him get mock-bestial on the in-laws' dog; watch him take a shaver to his pubic hair; see the hair magically get blown into the kitchen where the wedding cake is being prepared.

Directed by Jesse Dylan (lo, Bob's son!), ``American Wedding'' celebrates limited comic imagination with the predictable outcomes of most dead-on-arrival WB sitcoms. Its commendable, if juvenile, sense of erogenous adventure is sullied by bland technique, canned suburban punk music, and the fact that all the exploration does amount to maturer characters.

The movie brims with seasoned improv actors - Eugene Levy and Molly Cheek as Jim's folks, the remarkable Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler's mom, and Fred Willard and Deborah Rush as Michelle's parents. They're usually all at the mercy of dopey dinner-theater-size gags, which Willard and Rush are quite deft at pulling off without much chagrin.

Evidently, a lot of the series' cast didn't want to take the same risk. Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Shannon Elizabeth, and especially Natasha Lyonne are conspicuous by their absences. They were smart and knowing with screenwriter Adam Herz's brazenly unsophisticated sex-ed. The good news is that the movie still has dour Eddie Kaye Thomas, as sensitive lit poseur Finch, who twice has bedded Ms. Stifler. Thomas has been the series' second most valuable player after Scott. And here, Stifler and Finch square off for Michelle's hot-to-trot sister Cadence (January Jones). Their sparring is the best human dynamic the movie has.

Directed by: Jesse Dylan Written by: Adam Herz Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy Running time: 96 minutes Rated: R (Where to begin? Fake breasts, simulated sex, and more)

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