Tag Archives: C-

AMERICAN REUNION

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It’s been thirteen years since the raunchy high-school comedy “American Pie,” about four pals vowing to lose their virginity before graduation, hit theatres, spawning a couple of inferior theatrical sequels (“American Pie 2” in 2001 and “American Wedding” in 2003) as well as a direct-to-video afterthought (“Band Camp”) and loads of imitators. Now comes “American Reunion,” an attempt at resuscitating a franchise that should have been left dormant. But obviously nostalgia—and greed—know no limit.

The problem with the picture is basically that it’s a lazy piece of work—so lazy, in fact, that it even declines to concoct an explanation for why it’s a thirteen-year reunion rather than the ordinary round-decade one, preferring a throwaway joke instead. Unfortunately that’s characteristic of a movie that expends little energy giving the characters any heart, content instead to offer a succession of cheesy sex gags, beginning with a masturbation double-header and concluding with a credit-roll blow-job bit, with plenty of other variations in between. Some scatological humor, of course, is added as well—along with a dollop of gay and ethnic jokes and the obligatory dose of sentimentality.

The set-up is pretty simple. At the urging of Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), who wants to get away from his wife for a while, the buddies from the first picture decide to come home for their HS reunion. Jim (Jason Biggs) comes with wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and their young son; he hopes to use the time to recharge their marriage. Unfortunately, he finds that next-door neighbor Kara (Ali Cobrin), whom he used to baby-sit, is now a stunning eighteen-year old with a crush on him and a nasty boyfriend (Chuck Hittinger). Oz (Chris Klein), now a famous TV sportscaster, comes with his stunning party-prone girlfriend (Katrina Bowden), but is inevitably reconnects with his old flame Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the fact that she has a rich, arrogant doctor for a boyfriend. And in his wife’s absence Kevin finds himself gravitating toward his erstwhile sweetheart Vicky (Tara Reid). Meanwhile Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) arrives claiming to be a world-traveling adventurer.

Missing from the group is the obnoxious Stifler (Seann William Scott), who wasn’t invited but shows up anyway and becomes the trouble-making leader of the pack. He serves as the sparkplug for much of the rowdier stuff here, though also as the unlikely catalyst for sappy friendship-centered stuff in the last reel, which winds up at the prom, no less. It’s there that all the couples are properly sorted out, including Finch with erstwhile band chubby turned bartender beauty Selena (Donna Ramirez) and Stifler with somebody else’s mom.

Other characters from the earlier films make appearances, too—folks like Sherman (Chris Owen) and the “MILF” guys (John Cho and Justin Isfeld). You might want to bring a scorecard to keep everyone in mind. But the one figure who stands out—and who’s just about the only reason to see the movie—is Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad Mr. Levenstein. He’s been widowed for three years—Molly Cheek is seen only in a photograph—and desperately lonely. Levy gets some good footage when he tags along with Jim and Michelle to Stifler’s party, and inevitably gets together with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge). Seeing those two in the same frame is almost worth the price of admission in itself, but Levy has some other good moments too. He doesn’t save the picture, but he makes parts of it tolerable.

Of the rest, the ones who come off best, perhaps surprisingly, are Klein and Scott—the former because he’s simply likable, the latter because he’s unafraid to take his character as far as possible. Though that means that he’s asked by the scripters to do some pretty nasty stuff (like his encounter with a beer cooler, or another with a girl he remembers well), he also gets most of the good lines not handed to Levy. Biggs demonstrates why his star quickly fell, and Nicholas and Thomas remain the blandest of the troupe. The females, one must note, are all underused, with Hannigan looking rather more tired than one would expect—perhaps the duties of motherhood have worn too heavily on her.

“American Reunion” is well enough made, though the direction by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg doesn’t exhibit much verve, being content to let the action amble along listlessly to a running-time of nearly two hours. That gives us all the more time to see how synthetic the whole thing is. The result is a movie that proves you can go home again, but may encounter people you’d have preferred to forget.

ACT OF VALOR

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C

Men of action is not the same thing as men of acting, as this film about the Navy SEALs in the post-9/11 world makes clear. The producer-directors of the picture, Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh, appear in a brief prologue to discuss, among other things, their decision to employ active-duty (and unidentified) SEALs in the leads rather than actors; they argue that only by doing so could they capture the emotional range of the characters. That’s nonsense, of course, and an insult to the acting profession. And its inaccuracy is demonstrated in a scene the director points to—the one where the men bid goodbye to their families as they go on a dangerous mission. If this were a documentary capturing a real moment, the effect would certainly be powerful; but here, as the warriors, their wives and children try to replicate such an episode before the camera, the flat line readings and stiff performances undermine the impact. The defect is exacerbated by the writer Kurt Johnstad’s decision to employ narration throughout, a text filled with purple prose delivered in dull monotone by one of the men.

That means that all of the expository scenes in “Act of Valor” are really pretty bad. But the action ones have visceral energy, though even in this respect it falls short of a many war films that have choreographed their fighting scenes with greater clarity and precision. And the entirely fictional plot that’s been devised to showcase them has no subtlety whatever. It begins with a mission to rescue a captured female undercover agent who’s been investigating a shady arms dealer in Costa Rica. That involves a raid on a well-guarded jungle compound (though it’s never made clear how the location was ever determined), complete with firefights, car chases and some speeding gunboats and helicopters.

The success of that operation in turn leads to another, since intelligence derived from it discloses a plot by a fanatical terrorist (Jason Cottle), who’s already killed an American ambassador and a passel of children in a bomb attack, to infiltrate a slew of suicide bombers across the Mexican border into the US, where they will detonate vests equipped with undetectable plastic explosives in crowded areas. Working with Mexican police headed by a steely leader (Nestor Serrano), the SEALs first launch an assault on an island staging area off the coast and then a desperate effort to prevent the surviving terrorists from entering the States via tunnels—which also brings them up against the forces of a Mexican drug lord. The picture closes with a funeral eulogizing one of the men lost in the operation, followed by a list of SEALs actually killed in missions conducted since 9/11, to whom it’s dedicated.

Under these circumstances it might seem churlish to criticize, but unfortunately “Act of Valor” too often comes across as hackneyed and amateurish. The SEALs who play the leads are certainly convincing in the action sequences, but can’t carry the dialogue ones with any conviction. (To be fair, veteran actors would have trouble dealing with the cornball dialogue provided by Johnstad, a co-scripter of “300.”) And the professionals who are involved in other roles—like Roselyn Sanchez as the captured (and tortured) agent, or Alex Veadov and Cottle as the villains, or Serrano as the Mexican cop—don’t fare appreciably better. Veadov and Cottle, in particular, suffer from characterizations that make the bad-guy posturing of the nasties in such pulpy exercises as the “Die Hard” movies look positively multifaceted by comparison.

As emphasis on the use of Special Forces accelerates in today’s military, a tribute to the courage of the SEALs is certainly appropriate. And it must be said that “Act of Valor” is less meretricious than Louis Teague’s ludicrous 1990 movie about them, which enthusiastically embraced every Hollywood war-picture cliché of its time while finding Charlie Sheen giving what was probably his most embarrassing performance prior to his recent public meltdown. But this picture is actually no less cliché-ridden than that one, and as a film rather than an encomium, it leaves much to be desired.