Marrying fools

The third film in the "American Pie" trilogy brings it all back home

Niels Strandskov

As H.L. Mencken famously remarked: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”

Apparently the characters in “American Wedding,” the newest comedy in the “American Pie” series, have never pondered that old saw. If they had, perhaps they would be less sanguine about the prospect of trading in their wild parties, sexual adventures and carefree suburban lifestyle for the real world of jobs, mortgages and submission to propriety.

The film begins some time after “American Pie 2” left off, with the principals Jim (Jason Biggs), Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), Stifler (Seann William Scott) and their friends out of college and marginally more mature. For reasons that are not explained in the script, while Eddie Kaye Thomas reprises his role as Finch and Thomas Ian Nicholas returns as Kevin, Chris Klein has disappeared and Natasha Lyonne is also just a memory. We learn that Jim and Michelle have dated all through college, and Stifler has taken a job as a football coach at their old high school. After a bit of under-the-table hanky-panky, Jim and Michelle are affianced and hijinks ensue.

The funny thing about “American Wedding” is that it’s two movies in one. Each movie has its own plot, logic and moral compass. The first, and less interesting of the two, is a cloyingly sentimental meditation on the virtues of trust, fidelity and true love. This is shot in a series of disarmingly extreme close-ups where various characters (most notably Kevin) pontificate on how lovely love is and wonder if beauty could be any more beautiful. There hasn’t been such a deluge of lethally sticky sweetness since Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

In comparison to this treacle, the second movie is a rollicking, amoral romp. Of course, that romp covers territory that should be achingly familiar to viewers of the previous films. There are lascivious jokes and scatological jokes. There are cases of mistaken identity and elaborate set pieces where naked people have to hide from clothed people. Horrendous mistakes are made and important lessons are learned. Oh, the drollery!

Everything in “American Wedding” is so flawlessly obvious that the only questions that remain regard possible sequels. Could their be an “American Baby” in the offing, where Stifler has to break into the city impound lot to rescue Jim and Michelle’s offspring from his towed car while they are pursued by guard dogs after trying to have sex on a golf course? How about “American Death,” where Kevin gets hit by a train and Finch has to barter sex for a last-minute embalming while Jim and Stifler decoy the bereaved parents so they won’t open the casket? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, as taste and plausibility have never been considerations.

The two-movies-in-one approach is ultimately unnecessary. No one cares if this, or any other movie aimed at a teenage audience, has that mysterious Hollywood commodity “heart.” Nobody cares if Biggs and Hannigan evince “chemistry.” The only reason to go to an “American Pie” movie is to chuckle at the sex jokes and gag on the feces jokes. Though there might have been some small promise of something different in the first installment (Lyonne’s streetwise character Jessica comes to mind), at this point the inexorable press of studio profit demands and audience expectations has squeezed all the life out of this premise and these characters.

“American Wedding,” rated R. Directed by Jesse Dylan. Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy. Now showing at area theaters.

Niels Strandskov welcomes comments at [email protected]