Review: ‘American Pie’

It’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the Class of 1999, but the target audience for this coming of age film is too young to remember its inspiration. If you don’t believe that was the intent, know also that one of the working titles for it was East Great Falls High.

The plot is simple enough: the pursuit of sex. Four high school seniors form a pact to pressure one another into losing their virginity before or on prom night. There’s Jim, played by Jason Biggs, who seems willing to try anything… all by himself. Next is Kevin, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas, who’s girlfriend is abstaining until he makes a commitment. Third is Oz, played by Chris Klein, the jock who is even willing to be sensitive if that’s what it takes. And lastly is Finch, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas, who acts both too old and too young as a senior that prefers aged Scotch over a beer but can’t bring himself to use a public toilet. Rounding out the cast are stereotypical representatives for the dumb jocks, band nerds, computer geeks, and even the European exchange student that looks a little mature to still be in high school. Eugene Levy, taking on one of the few adult roles in the film, is given his moments to shine as Jim’s befuddled but well-meaning father.

While the subject matter appears familiar on the outside, each scene contains its own fair share of shock treatment and bathroom humor at least up to the bar set by There’s Something About Mary, and every subplot and minor character is exploited to the fullest and at every possible opportunity. But unlike Fast Times at Ridgemont High, none of the characters are as memorable as surfer dude extrordinaire Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) and Brad (Judge Reinhold) “daydreaming” about Linda (Phoebe Cates). Missing also are the stronger adult roles, such as Ray Walston’s Mr. Hand. Fast Times also dealt with consequential issues such as unprotected sex and abortion, while Pie counters its casual sex with the generous use of condoms. Close observers will notice a rare attempt at Hollywood-level responsibility: no one in Pie is shown drinking to excess and only adults light up.

The story feels familiar, the gags are mostly used, and the characters aren’t new. Fortunately, it has been so long since anyone has gotten this formula to work again that American Pie should enjoy a warm and comfortable slice of the box office receipts.

(3 out of 4)

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