Owen Gleiberman
July 09, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

American Pie

Current Status
In Season
Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy
Chris Moore

We gave it a B

”American Pie,” the profound and ennobling tale of four rabidly horny high school seniors who try to lose their virginity by prom night, looks, at a glance, like modern teen-movie repackaging of a very low and cynical order–that is, it appears to be a revival of the drooling slapstick raunchiness of ”Porky’s,” the low-budget 1982 hit that was essentially a dumbed-down, fleshed-out ”Animal House.” In one of the many scenes that young moviegoers will surely be snickering about all summer, Jim (Jason Biggs), a hapless putz who looks like a junior David Schwimmer, watches via an Internet video hookup as the Eastern European exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth) he has invited over for a ”study session” lies naked on his bed and proceeds to pleasure herself to a skin magazine.

The scene is pure (or should I say impure) hormone-soaked farce. The girl, who in the ’60s would have been a Norwegian stewardess, takes off her top to reveal a pair of extremely enhanced-looking torpedoes. Nevertheless, when Jim pops into the room, this porno-foldout bunny surprises him, and the audience, by taking control. She orders him to strip, too, and then she makes him dance. He does, in a series of spectacularly grotesque gyrations. In that moment, he becomes the very thing he was pining for–a piece of meat on display–and it was then, when the movie had shot past pseudo-exploitation and into the comedy of sexual role reversal, that I began to laugh.

Like most good teen comedies that never quite transcend their B-movie roots (”Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” ”Valley Girl”), ”American Pie” is a lively, disposable hybrid of the sincere and the synthetic. The film’s stray gross-out gags feel as if they were slapped together in the wake of ”There’s Something About Mary” (a nasty spiked beer sits just waiting to be sipped), and some of the more charming characters are pure cartoon-ville, like the nerd (the scene-stealing Alyson Hannigan) who can’t talk about anything but band camp yet turns out to be even lustier than her prom date. It reflects a major shift in contemporary teen culture that the girls in ”American Pie” are as hip to sex as the boys. One of them, played by the acerbic Natasha Lyonne, who’s like a naughtier Chelsea Clinton, is actually too experienced to exist within her school circle. She’s waiting for everyone else to catch up. Sexually speaking, playing catch-up is what being a teenager is all about, and movies like ”American Pie” are, by now, an essential part of the ritual.

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