It's a half-baked `Pie,' full of tasteless humor

Review: Even one slice of `American Pie' is too much, but teen-agers might ask for seconds.

July 09, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

It says a lot about the high school sex comedy "American Pie" that its producer-director team, brothers Chris and Paul Weitz, aspired to join the ranks of such dull-headed comedies as "Porky's" and "Revenge of the Nerds" when making their movie.

Of course, they were also inspired by "Stripes" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," but "American Pie" is not in a league with those classics. Rather, it's an uninteresting take on a tired formula that is only occasionally funny and usually pretty gross.

It should be a smash hit.

Jason Biggs plays Jim, a high school senior who, along with his best friends, desperately wants -- nay, needs -- to lose his virginity. Along with lacrosse star Oz (Chris Klein, from "Election"), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Jim embarks on a pact: The guys will lose their virginity by graduation or face certain ignominy when they start college. "They probably have special dorms for people like us," one moans.

Each young man selects his pet project: Jim wants to date a striking exchange student (played by the, um, statuesque Shannon Elizabeth); Kevin plans to "go all the way" with his girlfriend, Vicky (Tara Reid); Oz joins the jazz choir, where he expects to find pliable goody-goodies and no competition; and the pallid, weedy Finch manages somehow to get the entire female population of the high school cooing over his reputation as a Lothario.

"American Pie," which was written by Adam Herz, takes the not very interesting question of whether our heroes will manage to quench their libidinous thirst as a foil for some of the rudest, crudest gags this side of "There's Something About Mary," all of which will prove insufferable to anyone over 20 but recently had one theater full of teen-agers in stitches.

Pushing the envelope of decency as far as its adhesive will allow, "American Pie" traffics in graphic images of body fluids, oral sex and masturbation -- which is where, unlikely as it sounds, the title comes in. And naturally there's a healthy amount of vulgar language, drinking, scatological humor and random cruelty. This is high school, folks. At least Hollywood's version.

As unrelenting -- and for the most part unimaginative -- as "American Pie" is in its hormone-driven naughtiness, there are high points. Chris Klein, a young actor who was such a revelation in the social satire "Election," once again proves to be appealingly ingratiating as a jock who discovers his inner nerd, and Eugene Levy is, as usual, cluelessly hilarious as Jim's well-meaning father. The movie's central set piece, involving some high jinks on the Internet, is a funny iteration on every high school student's nightmare of being made a fool of in front of everyone.

But this kind of deep thinking is way beyond the ken of this raunchy, randy and virtually unredeemed movie (teen pregnancy is but a distant rumor in this consequence-free zone). The kids who flock to it may take it all as the big joke the filmmakers intended, but watching these characters -- who seem to be 18 going on 40 -- you get the feeling that their sophistication has come at a heartbreaking price. As they accelerate into adulthood, years of adolescent frustration, awkwardness and angst might have been shaved off their lives, but in the process, something precious has been stolen.

'American Pie'

Starring Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne

Directed by Paul Weitz

Released by Universal Pictures

Rated R (strong sexuality, crude sexual dialogue, language and drinking, all involving teens) Running time: 100 minutes Sun score: * 1/2

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