Friday, July 9, 1999

Half-baked recipe

Movie: American Pie

Posted on Fri, Jul 9, 1999 at 4:00 AM

American Pie
Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: 1999-07-09
Cast: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne
Director: Paul Weitz
Screenwriter: Adam Herz
Music Score: David Lawrence
WorkNameSort: American Pie
Our Rating: 2.00

Teen sex comedies perform two vital functions. They offer young audiences a cathartic release from the fumbling awkwardness of their own carnal forays. And they allow oldsters to laugh nostalgically at the mistakes they made before settling into a mating pattern defined by ... well, experienced awkwardness.

So why is "American Pie" a washout on both fronts, a far less adequate coming-of-age escapade than, say, "Losin' It?" That's easy: "Losin' It" had Tom Cruise. "Pie" makes do with Chris Klein, a blank-slate heartthrob who approaches the role of an earnest virgin with all of the empty-eyed amiability he brought to his equally flatlining football player in Election. Does anyone sense a career motif here?

Klein's Oz makes a senior-year vow with his buddies that all will taste flesh before prom time has come and gone. In the meantime, the endlessly horny Jim (Jason Biggs) takes his pent-up frustrations out on such inanimate partners as a sock and a freshly baked apple pie. (Blame There's Something About Mary for making demonstrative vulgarity the new comedic norm.) Pal Kevin's (Thomas Ian Nicholas) talent for saying the wrong thing keeps him from consummating his relationship with his steady girlfriend. Though wild-man Stifler (Seann W. Scott) is the most worldly of the bunch, there's a brutal edge to his playboy elan that's as charming as a case of date rape. Somebody sterilize these kids, now.

The ladies don't come off any better. Jim pursues an exchange student named Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), whose allegedly Czechoslovakian accent is a geographic goulash of mispronounced vowels. What counts is her traffic-stopping body, one that Jim happily shares with the Internet via a digital camera set up in his bedroom. Leave it to the computer age to update the shower scene in "Porky's."

Cameos by two gifted comics provide the few moments of merriment. "SCTV's" Eugene Levy amuses as Jim's button-down dad, uncomfortable with his son's incipient manhood but notably conversant with the various schools of printed pornography. Granted even less screen time, Natasha Lyonne makes her usual knockout impression as a bad girl who counsels her schoolmates in the ways of love. Delivering her poorly written speeches with an aplomb that defies the surrounding idiocy, Lyonne is an actress of a different school -- a grown-up talent ready to take on the world.


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