The notion of a fourth "American Pie" film isn't as toxic as, say, a "Twins" or "Midnight Run" sequel. But the project gives off a similar whiff of desperation.
Most of the franchise's stars have struggled to sustain their early fame, and the last film in the series, 2003's "American Wedding," felt as crusted over as the deflowered pie from the first film.
Somehow "American Reunion" rises above it's not-so-promising expectations. Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, best known for instigating the "Harold and Kumar" franchise, juggle the mandatory crude gags with the onset of early middle age in a way that doesn't seem possible given their resumes.
And the combination of Eugene Levy and Seann William Scott, possibly the most disparate screen cut-ups in recent memory, transforms the R-rated nonsense into deliriously funny sequences.
The high school "Reunion" in question is a 13-year affair - the film doesn't even bother to round up or down to make matters sound official. It's merely a plot device to reunite Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kay Thomas) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) once more.
But things have changed drastically since the boys last gathered. Jim and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have a two-year-old boy and can't find the time to keep the home fires ... burning. Kevin wears an apron around the house and spends his nights watching reality show swill like "The Bachelor" and "The Real Housewives" with his better half. Oz's success as a sports anchor grants him an uber-hot girlfriend ("30 Rock's" Katrina Bowden) and a perpetual sadness that won't go away.
Finch seems the most content, having traveled the globe collecting stories to amaze his old pals.
Of course, professional irritant Stifler (Scott) won't be left out of the mayhem. The foursome would rather avoid Stifler and his endless mugging, but in the "Pie" films he's the straw that stirs the drink.
Stifler does much more than that here. Scott's character represents the uneasy divide between our wild 'n crazy teen years and adulthood, and he won't give up the former without a fight. In "American Wedding" Stifler seemed to reach his comic expiration date, but he's utilized far more efficiently here. He's a tragic figure who isn't in on his own joke.
The story itself barely merits repeating. It's a series of situations that could have been plucked from a half dozen other R-rated comedies, yet the game cast treats them like an English acting troupe rehearsing for a Shakespeare festival.
Levy returns as Jim's Dad, but this time he's a widower whose uncomfortable pep talks have a tinge of sadness to them. It's the same old joke as Levy's character shares way too much with his now grown son, though Levy still sells the bit with gusto. But when his character decides to live a little and attend a notorious Stifler party, the "SCTV" alum shows the younger cast mates what a seasoned pro can bring to a franchise. It helps that he's paired with fellow improv comic Jennifer Coolidge, once more giving Stifler's mom the vibrant sex appeal that launched a thousand MILF jokes.
"Reunion" brings back just about every actor of note from the previous films, including Tara Reid as Kevin's old flame and Mena Suvari as Oz's former love. By and large, the gals get very little to do, and the reappearance of Natasha Lyonne, a sharp actress who conquered some personal demons since the last "American" installment, is particularly under-employed.
We also could do without a third act revelation regarding one of the four major characters that qualifies as an unmitigated buzz kill.
"American Reunion" wraps with a gratuitous hint we haven't seen the last of Jim and the gang. That might sound like a lousy idea, but even unnecessary sequels can bear some rather tasty fruit.