Saturday, April 7, 2012

Truth in titling

The American Pie series is hardly the first series to participate in the revitalization trend of the past few years. I'm calling it a "revitalization trend" because that covers both reboots, which the latest American Pie movie is not, and delayed sequels, which the latest American Pie movie is.

However, American Reunion may have the most truthful title of any of them.

Because isn't that what these series revitalizations really are? Reunions for the cast and crew? And also for the audiences who loved these movies the first time around, and are now trying to indulge in the nostalgia that is part and parcel to the whole concept of a reunion?

That's why these reboots/delayed sequels get so many of the original participants to come back into the fold. If you are a self-respecting actor who has gone on to a successful career, it's hard to get too enthused about the umpteenth straightforward sequel to the successful original movie you were in. Umpteenth sequels are played out. However, dress it up as sort of a reboot, sort of a delayed sequel -- as a reunion -- and you can get those people back. They're on board because it's "special" -- because you are openly acknowledging it's a trip down memory lane, an attempt to "get the band back together," rather than just soldiering on through a series of ordinary sequels whose only purpose is to make more money. (Of course, that's the only purpose of these reunions as well -- but by thinking of them as reunions, the actors can fool themselves into thinking it's more profound than that.)

I mean, what kind of curmudgeon doesn't want to go to a good reunion? As long as reunions are infrequent enough, it's the one time when the ironic and the sardonic can let themselves off the hook for having the detestable desire to care about something. If they go to a reunion ironically, it doesn't matter if they enjoy themselves genuinely.

Of course, movies like American Reunion don't only get back the really successful alums who have gone on to bigger and brighter things. (Most of the American Pie cast has not, actually -- but you could include Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan and possibly John Cho in that category). They also get back the actors who can only find work in movies in this series. Which, sadly for these folks, includes most of the rest of the cast.

The result? Everyone comes back, and you have the conditions in place for a possible -- possible -- hit.

Now, American Reunion may not be the greatest example overall. For one, most of this cast appeared in 2003's American Wedding, save only Chris Klein among the main characters as far as I can tell. (I haven't actually seen that movie.) For another, American Wedding was not technically the most recent movie in this series. The American Pie series includes about 17 straight-to-video sequels whose only representative from the original cast is Eugene Levy as "Jim's dad." (I don't think the character actually has a name -- I think his name is "Jim's dad.")

But we can see this same pattern in other franchises. The one that really struck me was 2009's Fast and Furious, which was pretty much a total reunion of the cast of The Fast and the Furious eight years earlier. The movie itself did not get great notices, but it was enough of a hit that it spawned another sequel that got both a good box office and some love from the critics.

The fact that Vin Diesel deigned to be in each of these past two movies is a bit of a mixture of both phenomena that can cause someone to come back for one of these reunions. In one sense, he was the big shot coming back to grace the little shots with his presence, and because it was "special," his reputation wouldn't be tainted by it. But on the other hand, Diesel hasn't really panned out to be the kind of box office star he thought he'd be -- so he actually really needed this work. And once others show their interest -- such as Dwayne Johnson, who appeared in Fast Five -- it's no longer just an "ironic reunion." It might, just might, become an ongoing force among franchises, fresh and genuinely revitalized.

I don't think that's necessarily going to happen here. I don't think we'll be seeing American Reunion 2 or anything like that. I mean, Stifler's jokes in the ads feel pretty musty, and truthfully, this cast is full of a bunch of has-beens. Even Seann William Scott is not getting the work he got two or three years ago. The poster pretty much acknowledges this reality, recommending that we (the viewer) "save the best piece for last." (Because that's definitely something no franchise has ever done -- say it's the last movie when it really isn't.)

So maybe this reunion will indeed just serve as their last hurrah, their chance to get together one more time, maybe give the audience a little last piece of what they loved from American Pie. It'll allow everyone to celebrate their own glory days one last time -- to fool themselves, momentarily, into thinking that what was is what still could be.

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