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American Reunion

Sound is something most moviegoers take for granted. Most don’t walk out of a film and talk about the sound effects or the catchy soundtrack or the beautiful musical score, yet those things are absolutely vital to its success. Without them, a movie just isn’t complete. I say this only because I was forced to watch American Reunion sans the soundtrack. For whatever reason, be it a problem with the print of the film or the theater showing it, one of the sound channels never made a peep. In a movie that promises a high school reunion (which, of course, comes with dancing), the exclusion of music is a major distraction. It’s far too silly to watch the people onscreen flail their bodies to a nonexistent beat. Despite this problem and my general dissatisfaction with the way the film was presented to me, I’m still recommending American Reunion because it manages to be the most complete and dramatically effective film in the series while still retaining the raunchy humor it’s known for. The accompanying music was sorely missed, but the fact that the film still worked in spite of that is a testament to the talent that put it together.

Thirteen years have passed since American Pie hit the scene and now everybody we know and love is off doing their own thing. Jim (Jason Biggs) is still married to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and now they have a kid. Oz (Chris Klein) is the host of a television show and is in a relationship with a beautiful, but crazy young girl named Mia (Katrina Bowden). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is essentially a housewife and has moved on since his break-up with ex-girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid). Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) tells everyone of his adventures around the world while Stifler (Seann William Scott) is working as a temp at a prominent accounting firm. They haven’t seen each other since Jim and Michelle’s wedding, but they have all come home for their thirteenth East Great Falls high school reunion (it turns out the reunion planner simply forgot to do it on their tenth) and though they only plan on reminiscing about their past adventures, little do they know they’re about to have a new one instead.

It’s pointless to discuss the humor of American Reunion. If you’ve seen the other films in the series, you know what you’re in for here. It’s essentially more of the same and if you found it funny then, chances are you’ll find it funny now. What’s far more interesting in this offering of vulgarity and sexual shenanigans is its unanticipated maturity. As everyone does at some point or another, the boys have grown up. That obsession with sex they had in the original film has progressed to a longing for a stable relationship. Most of them are presently in one and they all have their problems, but the desire to love and be loved is their central focus, eclipsing the childish and exaggerated importance of sex. In one early hilarious bit, a group of beautiful young girls run by them on the beach and they don’t try to charm one of them into their beds; they’re too concerned with the sand that was kicked up in their faces. This growth is unexpected, but welcome, and it gives the film far more dramatic weight than any of the previous films in the series.

The only character who seems to have not grown up is Stifler. He’s still rude, crude and looking for hookups, but you quickly realize his behavior is merely a cover for his general unhappiness. He hasn’t done much with his life and is the lowliest of all the workers at his place of employment. He wants so badly to hang onto the past, and with good reason, that he sees no other alternative. Anybody who has lived in that transition from childhood to adulthood can understand his mentality. His character arc will hit close to home to many people—mostly to those who have struggled to enter into the adult world after school—and its effectiveness, given that it’s coming from the lewdest character in the entire film, is a wonderful surprise.

Although there is plenty of sound drama in the film, American Reunion seems to have no faith in itself, forcing dramatic scenarios where they don’t fit just to give the characters some type of emotional conflict to overcome. The most obligatory example comes when Michelle learns that Jim drove his attractive 18-year-old neighbor home after a heavy night of drinking. Nothing happened and Jim did the right thing—he got her home safely rather than risk the possibility that she could end up killing herself or someone else—but she gets mad at him anyway. Perhaps I’m simply looking at the scene from a male perspective and see no wrongdoing in his behavior, but that makes it no less trite. These forced scenarios also lead to some horrific acting, most notably by Tara Reid and Thomas Ian Nicholas. None of these folks are known for their dramatic chops and a number of scenes are difficult to take seriously, despite their serious intent.

Nevertheless, American Reunion is everything a fan of the series could want. It’s still funny and unabashedly crude, but there’s a sense of closure, that these characters have finally found their bliss. In a way, it’s kind of like an actual high school reunion. It’s a celebration of what used to be, but also a realization that moving forward and growing up is sometimes better.

American Reunion receives 3.5/5


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Rednecks get a bad rap in horror films. If they’re central to the story, it’s inevitable they will be the killers or, in a more supernatural type of movie, lure unsuspecting teens to the lair of some unthinkable creature. They’re never the heroes. They’re never the normal ones. They exist as archetypes for lazy screenwriters who can’t come up with a more interesting villain, but not in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, the debut film from writer-director Eli Craig. What begins as your typical killer hillbilly movie evolves into something much greater that turns the rules of the genre on its head. Its single joke premise may grow tired by the end of its short 88 minute runtime, but it’s creative, intelligent and fun and, despite its problems, turns out to be one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the year.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are best friends. They live in West Virginia and don’t have much money, so the fact that they’re able to buy a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, secluded from the rest of society, is something special. It’s run-down and probably wouldn’t look like much to other people, but to them it’s a vacation home. So they go there to relax and fix the place up while, by pure coincidence, a group of college kids are taking a camping trip close by. While fishing one night, they watch as Allison (Katrina Bowden) accidentally knocks herself unconscious. Without hesitation, Tucker and Dale save her, only for her friends to misinterpret the situation and think she has been kidnapped. As they attempt to “rescue” her, they begin to accidentally kill themselves, causing the remaining kids to conclude that Tucker and Dale are offing them one by one.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is, in its own special way, similar to films like Scream and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon in that it plays with expectations. It takes familiar horror plot elements and clichés and deconstructs them to create something unique. Despite their names in the title, we don’t begin the film with Tucker and Dale. We are instead trapped in that car with the kids who are venturing through hillbilly country. At one point, Tucker and Dale pass by them in their truck and stare at them ominously. Further up the road, they stop at an old shop to pick up some supplies where, naturally, Tucker and Dale have also stopped. Later in this scene is where the movie makes the transition between perspectives. We find that the two friends were only staring because they were surprised to see such highbrow college kids in their neck of the woods. When Dale walks up to talk to Allison, he stumbles over his words and laughs awkwardly, in a way one would expect of horror movie hillbillies, but it’s only because he’s nervous and not good at talking to girls.

The film cleverly uses the typical behavior of what would expect from such characters, but then goes on to explain why they act the way they do. They’re not out to kill—as Dale later confesses, he doesn’t even like to fish because he doesn’t like harming the poor creatures—events just happen to play out in a way that makes them look like psycho murderers. In one hilarious bit, Tucker runs at the kids with a chainsaw, screaming and swinging it wildly. What they don’t know is he just accidentally cut into a beehive and he’s only running to avoid getting stung. Through moments like these, the film finds its fun. Anyone familiar with the tropes of the horror genre will undoubtedly find something to enjoy.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil sets out to spoof and pay homage to the redneck killers subgenre, recalling films like Friday the 13th, Wrong Turn and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (the latter of which this film’s opening is ripped from) and in that regard, it’s a rousing success, and it works because of its two talented, funny and underappreciated stars. Alan Tudyk is immensely likable and it’s amazing he hasn’t found more fame after starring in the terrific sci-fi show, Firefly, and knocking the role of Simon out of the park in the original Death at a Funeral. Tyler Labine, similarly, is a goofball and plays stupid well. He also starred in a great short lived TV show, Reaper, and should be getting more love than he is. However, it’s that lack of appreciation that allows them to star in movies like this and their pairing up is brilliant. They work so well together and their rapport is so funny, it feels like they’ve been long time best friends in real life.

Although a sequel is probably too much to ask, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is destined to go down as a cult classic. Those who actually watch it will fall in love with the characters and laugh at the crazy things they do, like sterilize their wounds with a can of beer. The first half is better than the last half where it loses its cleverness and becomes a generic battle of good vs. evil complete with dastardly villain clichés that are just that: clichés. The parody disappears and the ingenuity along with it, but it’s a lot of fun up to that point, more than enough to make it worth watching.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil receives 3.5/5