Sift through comments on franchise sequel announcements and you'll find many crying afoul to Hollywood's insistence of resurfacing every last brand in their bank of titles. The desire for original content is reasonable but occasionally a cinematic follow-up does have the potential to be rich and rewarding. Revisiting characters who've seen time pass in their own lives is worthy of exploration — Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville Richard Linklater's Before Sunset and even A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas prove that theory. American Reunion reaches for that same dramatic arc reentering the lives of its core cast eight years after American Wedding. But instead of mixing comedy with any weighty issues the movie only tickles the nostalgia bone (and without f**king one pie in the process) — a hurdle that keeps American Reunion from being nearly as riotous as the original.
Life hits a wall for Jim (Jason Biggs) in 2012. He's a happily married man a father and a moderately successful employee of a faceless company. But after catching his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) enjoying the company of a shower head it dawns on Jim that he's in need of a shake-up. Perfect timing: Jim packs up the family and heads to his hometown for his 13th high school reunion (sure why not) where he reunites with the old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) currently whipped into submission by his girlfriend Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) back from a trip around the world Oz (Chris Klein) now a superstar sportscaster fresh off a celebrity dance show stint and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) a law firm temp who continues to turn women into his own personal squeeze toys. The high school buddies devolve quickly into their old habits alcoholic antics and potty-mouthed rants by the red solo cupful. Good fun for Jim no fun for Michelle.
Instead of digging deep into its well-founded characters (which I swear is allowed in a raunchy R-rated comedy) American Reunion sticks to the familiar goofball scenarios of its predecessors. Which is passable because the core group who stuck through all three movies — Biggs Nicholas Thomas and Scott — make poop-infused pranks and slapstick shtick like a scene in which Jim and co. must get a drunken naked eighteen-year-old back into her parents' house without looking like total creepsters highly entertaining. Scott once again proves him an underused comedic talent making Stifler one of the few characters who can rattle off colorful cuss words while showing a glimmer of humanity. Same goes for Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad who finds his role beefed up now that he's once again single. Grieving for years over his wife's death Jim helps his advice-dealing pop hit the dating scene and Levy spins gold out of the silliest of situations.
The problem with American Reunion is everyone else. Chris Klein never clicks with the rest of the group (that's what he gets for skipping out on Jim's wedding) while the rest of the ensemble feel ham-fisted for cameo purposes rather than complimenting the storyline. Tara Reid and Mena Suvari return to the franchise to stand around and react to the ineptitude of their male counterparts. Natasha Lyonne is in and out faster than Jim's first time. Other brief character appearances are like bigfoot sightings. The idea of bringing the entire cast of the original back for more seems perfect but without proper pacing from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) there's never a moment to enjoy it.
American Reunion is a flaccid entry servicing fans while coming through with enough laugh out loud moments to make one scream (In one scene Jim takes a page out of Michael Fassbender's Shame that will elicit audible reactions). If these were fresh characters we'd brush it off — but at the film's core is a lovable familiar bunch of knuckleheads that can't be ignored. And if Stifler wants to party you party.
Dave Johnson’s (Morris Chestnut) dreams of playing in the major leagues have long been dashed and now he’s left to coach Little League and try to make a go of his modest construction firm. He’s a good guy but after more than a decade of marriage he’s is constantly harassed by his successful realtor/wife Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) and her obnoxious mother Mary (Jenifer Lewis). A tragic automobile accident brings things to a marital boiling point -- Clarice becomes housebound with severe leg injuries and Dave just might be attracted to the physical therapist Julie (Maeve Quinlan) a white single mother who has arrived to help out. Based on T.D. Jakes’ religious themed book Woman Thou Art Loosed this intense and old fashioned drama offers some meaty roles to some fine actors and they run with the opportunity -- particularly Chestnut who displays such warmth and likeability he seems almost too good to be true. Henson (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Hustle and Flow) has had a few good screen outings of late but probably could have taken it down just a notch to make Clarice just a little more empathetic. You almost wonder how poor Dave has lasted so long with this woman. Ditto Lewis. On the other hand the warm and understanding Quinlan is the perfect counterpoint pointing out a real crisis of conscience for Dave. Welcome comic relief comes in the form of his buddies Eddie Cibrian and particularly the highly amusing Kevin Hart. And watch for a restaurant-scene cameo by Jakes. Fortunately actor turned director Bill Duke knows how to rein in this tricky marital story and make its most important message -- tolerance and perseverance in relationships --somehow ring true. There may not be a whole lot of subtlety in this particular tale (or many of Jakes books in general) but it’s an agreeable and engrossing affair that’s worthy of attention from anyone involved in a long term relationship. And it’s certainly refreshing for once to see this kind of romantic drama played out almost entirely from the male point of view.
Bille Golden (Isabel Rose) is a 30-something nightclub singer-slash-waitress who wishes she were performing doing the golden years of the 1950s cabaret. Billie's dream seems impossible: she's not a teenager anymore she's poor lives with her alcoholic mother and doesn't completely believe in herself…all the makings for depression. Along comes Prince Charming to rescue her in the form of one Greg Ellenbogen (Cameron Bancroft) her old high school crush who is now a very handsome and successful lawyer. The drawback? Greg does not believe in Billie's dream. Enter one Elliot Shepard (Andrew McCarthy) a pianist who is more into his art than earning money. Sparks fly when Elliot becomes Billie's music teacher. Of course in a very formulaic way she must choose between her two loves between money and passion.
An unknown Isabel Rose shines in this indie; she is an excellent singing and acting talent taking every scene and making it her own. However most of the others don't exactly hold their own--the already predictable movie proves more so with the mediocre acting of Cameron Bancroft and Andrew McCarthy. Both seem to go through the motions and only stick to the stereotypes of what their characters are: one rich and selfish the other artistic and caring. Victor Argo as Sal the nightclub owner is genuine and carries out his part well but is not seen enough. Eartha Kitt appears in a welcome cameo but in a key role that only plays up the film's unlikelihood.
Robert Cary co-wrote the screenplay (with star Rose) and directed the movie which may explain why there are no surprises. Without a different point of view he was unable to really give this film the space it needed to grow and develop. "I've always loved the musicals and romances of Hollywood's golden era specifically those films produced by the majors between the mid-30's and mid-50's " Cary has said. Those formulaic romantic plots of yesteryear may have worked in their time but Anything But Love ends up being just too unrealistic for today's savvier audiences. The plot in addition to Billie's dream sequences is too fairytale-like. Anything But Love fails at being old-fashioned and instead merely forces the audience to wait for the inevitable ending.