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American Reunion: Marginally worth attending 

**1/2

AMERICAN REUNION

**1/2

DIRECTED BY Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

STARS Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan

Although the "raunchy teen sex comedy" got off to a rousing start with 1978's classic National Lampoon's Animal House, the lamentable rip-offs that followed — almost all of them centering on high school or college boys desperate to lose their virginity — ensured that the genre was dead and buried by the end of the 1980s. So when American Pie came around in 1999, the time was right for a resurgence, with the stakes raised for directors Paul Weitz and writer Adam Herz to produce something more memorable than the previous decade's rot gut. They largely succeeded: The ingredients that elevated American Pie a few notches above such '80s atrocities as Loose Screws, Private School and Porky's Revenge were its treatment of female characters who without exception were smarter and more mature than their male counterparts, its sizable amount of heart to go along with its expected crudity, and some noteworthy gags perfectly executed by a young and appealing cast. Where all the sequels — 2001's American Pie 2, 2003's American Wedding and now American Reunion — go wrong is that none manage the balancing act between sweetness and seediness as well as the original film, instead tipping the scale toward the bawdy end to an unnecessary degree. And yet there's still enough comic invention, to say nothing of that likable cast, to make them easier to take than the subsequent chapters in many other franchises.

In American Reunion, everyone — and I mean everyone — returns from the first installment (yes, even "the Shermanator"). They're all older but not necessarily wiser, dealing with the rigors and rigidity of 30something life. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) now have a kid and no longer have time for each other. Oz (Chris Klein) is a successful sportscaster dating a party animal but pining for Heather (Mena Suvari), who's involved with a doctor. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is now happily married but still recalls his first love, Vicky (Tara Reid). Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, still drawling like Nicolas Cage) has become an international man of mystery, off on exciting adventures in exotic locales. And Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still the Stifmeister, adamantly refusing to mentally or emotionally advance past the age of 17. The gang elects to have an unofficial 13th anniversary reunion, which brings everyone back to their hometown of East Great Falls, Michigan. While the other characters spend their time reminiscing and rebuilding relationships, Jim, as always, has it the hardest — and not just because he again gets his penis caught in a compromising position while masturbating. In addition to trying to rekindle the romance in his marriage, he must fend off the advances of an 18-year-old beauty (Ali Cobrin) he baby-sat back in the day as well as lend support to his dad (Eugene Levy), who's been lonely since the passing of his wife.

Levy's always a treat, and here he gets to leave the house long enough to party with Stifler and mix it up with Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge). He's the only cast member given any sort of expanded character arc by writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (imported from the Harold & Kumar series), as everyone else pretty much does what's expected of them — and some of them don't even get that much (Reid appears so fleetingly that one wonders if they had to drag her off a Malibu beach and force her to take part). Still, the actors settle comfortably back into their old roles, and Scott seems to take particular relish in reprising his part of the vile, vapid Stifler. His character provides many of the overcooked gross-out bits, but his live-wire energy as a man-child who doesn't want to grow up provides a needed jolt to a saga that, after all, did begin back in high school. As one of the guys puts it, "Stifler, you're a dick. But you're our dick."

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