POSTED ON APRIL 11, 2012:
Boring no-comedy comedy vs. a titan mythic adventure
Was anyone losing sleep over how the kids from the 1999 teen sex comedy smash, American Pie turned out? The mildly amusing hit has spawned American Pie 2 (2001) and American Wedding (2003), with an eventual seven sequels (including direct to video) that, till now, probably did an adequate job of keeping fans happy -- though at that this point it's the same audience that keeps Larry the Cable Guy depressingly still a thing.
The off-screen lives of some of the cast have been arguably more entertaining than any of the Pie sequels (particularly Tara Reid and Natasha Lyonne) but it's not as though the ones who could actually keep their shit together career-wise went on to any great cinematic heights. Jason Biggs's ("It always comes back to that stupid pie. I'm haunted by it") heightened his profile, leading to a Woody Allen movie -- albeit one of Allen's weakest, Anything Else. But a look at the filmographies of Sean William Scott (the hyper-obnoxious Stifler) or Chris Klein (the sweetly dumb Oz) reveals atrocities like that symphony of cinematic torture, Cop Out and the awful 2002 remake of Rollerball (Scott and Klein, respectively). Sure every actor has a bomb in their career, but Scott's typecasting and Klein's endearing ineptitude with the art of acting aren't adding a whole lot to the medium.
Regardless, Jim and Stifler and Oz are back, along with the entire original cast, some of whom seem genuinely unused to having a camera pointed at them, for American Reunion.
Post high school life has taken the kids from East Great Falls in different directions. Jim is married to vaginal flutist, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), raising a two year old son. The birth of the baby has put an ironic damper on their sex life.
Stifler, still living with his mom, is an office temp peon under the thumb of a verbally abusive boss, lamenting the old days of screwing high school girls and being a 5-alarm douchebag, suffering no consequences.
Meanwhile Oz (a perfectly cast Klein) is a terrible sportscaster in L.A. whose devastatingly hot girlfriend (Katrina Bowden) can't assuage his nostalgia for his first love, Heather (Mena Suvari), despite her relationship with a seemingly perfect, cardiac surgeon boyfriend (Jay Harrington).
Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols) is blandly satisfied in his commitment to marriage, though he still feels the tug of his first love, Vicky (a well-preserved Tara Reid). Meanwhile, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still trying to become a literary James Dean. His screeching motorcycle intro imparts the sense of danger one usually feels when thinking of Eddie Kaye Thomas.
So they all decide to get together on the occasion of their 10-year reunion for one last blow out party and the requisite juvenile monkeyshines that are bound to ensue.
But don't break this rule: Just be funny; don't be overly introspective and self-reverential in the 8th fucking movie of a mediocre series.
At nearly two hours, the main problem with American Reunion (besides existing) is that it's a slog of depressingly protracted proportions. It's not as though these characters are particularly deep or interesting, so writers/directors John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg's (of the more endearing Harold and Kumar trilogy) uninspired conflicts and unhurried narrative give them little to do. That, combined with the dearth of jokes that stick -- the best bit is in the closing credits and only connects due to Eugene Levy, typically enjoyable as Jim's sweet-hearted, understanding dad -- are what make what should be a forgettable time waster into a rather memorable drain on patience.
Wooden line readings, delivered particularly from Klein and Reid, are bereft of (intentional) comedic timing -- though watching Klein try is still funny--while Mena Suvari is astonishingly flat, looking a little dazed to be in an American Pie flick; in a holding-your-head, "for real?" sort of way.
Eddie Kaye Thomas's manufactured coolness has all the edge of a Q-Tip. Even Sean Williams Scott's Stifler seems dialed down and half-hearted. Well, until he takes that runny, revenge dump in the beer cooler of a couple of prankster teens who have no idea who they screwed with. Even a cameo by Neil Patrick Harris fails to arouse hilarity. I'm not even sure how you pull that off.
The themes of the film are rote (oh, the kids today, embracing your adulthood bullshit done better elsewhere, many times), and the tepid conflicts resolve themselves predictably -- making the lack of narrative urgency almost exquisitely boring.
Like Warm Apple Pie. John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg write and direct American Reunion, a possible canidate for worst sequel of the year.
Hannigan is likeable, though, and Biggs seems to have his heart in it. But it is Levy's warm turn that soothes the restlessness that is bound to set in roughly ten minutes after you wonder why you thought buying a ticket to this pile of desperation was a good idea.
And it's clear that these people like working together, so when they vow in the closing moments to "do it again next year" I really hope that they do. Just don't film it.
Wrath of the Titans
It's only by extension of the fact that the 2010 remake of the '80s cheese classic Clash of the Titans sucked -- more or less, but hey, that Kraken looked wicked -- that its sequel, Wrath of the Titans, winds up being a lot of fun. Perhaps it's the change in directors. Perhaps it's just because the film is freed from the familiarity of the original. Or maybe Sam Worthington (reprising his role as Perseus) took the hint and decided to emote a little.
Whatever the reason, Wrath, with its often kinetic and sufficiently numerous action sequences, some game performances (Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, go figure) and rich production design -- not to mention a raft of cool creatures -- make for a sequel that does what few do. Improve on the "original."
Ten years after turning the Kraken into the world's largest paperweight, Perseus (Worthington) the demigod son of Zeus (Neeson) lives the life of his adopted father as a fisherman, raising a boy of his own. He's renounced his lineage, wanting to live a simple life.
That is, until Zeus shows up to warn him that the end of the world is nigh. People are losing faith and the power of the gods wanes with it, allowing evil to creep anew from the Underworld. Kronos, the chaotic father of Zeus and Hades (Fiennes), long confined in the underground prison of Tartarus, seeks escape which the brothers, and their shrinking cadre of their god brethren will be unable to prevent without the armies of men. Perseus is indifferent at first, until a Chimera -- a two-headed, dragon-like Titan -- trashes his hood and nearly kills his son.
Calling on his winged steed, Pegasus, Perseus takes action to save mankind alongside Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Poseidon's son, Agenor (a fun Toby Kebbell), and Hephaestus (Bill Nighy, being typically awesome), the fallen weapon smith of the gods and designer of the Escheresque prison that protects humanity from hordes of clearly irate Titans.
Wrath of the Titans is popcorn munching adventure that, while not at its finest, represents far better than its wooden, uninspiring predecessor. The pace of the narrative is tighter and far more at ease with itself, freed from any devotion to the original, playing in a more comfortably established world. It hearkens back not only to the Harryhausen FX delights of the original Clash -- or Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and any other Saturday morning sword-and-sandal adventure graced by the monsters of Harryhausen's imagination -- but also the operatic, nearly Shakespearian relationships between the gods of Greek legend. While not played for camp, Wrath has a knowing sense of its place, balanced well between taking itself seriously and recognizing its genre with a subtle wink. As a result, it captures the fun, geeky '80s appeal of the original Clash of the Titans in a way that the 2010 remake did not -- or the similarly themed, yet bumbling, Immortals.
Director John Liebesman (of the disappointing Battle:Los Angeles) pulls together a script by a gaggle of writers into something that probably shouldn't work (too many plot holes and some narrative choppiness, essentially the same problems of J.J. Abrams unexpectedly fun Star Trek reboot). Plot lines get excitingly laid out then perfunctorily brought together in the service of eye candy -- an uncoordinated alignment of narrative and visual elements. Liebesman has a keen enough eye, sense of scope and efficient pacing to overcome the scripts crockpot faults but not the sense that its coolest ideas could have been something more.
Where Wrath of the Titans doesn't falter is in its art and creature design, not to mention some grand action sequences that seem ripped straight from a God of War game. The epic sight of Kronos laying a battlefield to waste with the tips of his molten fingers or the brilliantly rendered Cyclopes hunting our heroes through trap-infested forests provide plenty of nutrition for nerdy dudes that love that sort of shit on principle.
But, combined with the pleasurable performances from Neeson and Fiennes -- which practically qualify as special effects, themselves -- and vibrant world that feels grounded and detailed, Wrath never pisses off the audience enough to resent its flaws.
Considering that the remake is best forgotten, it's great that Wrath of the Titans works just as well as a stand-alone entry; one that deserves a sequel even though the film, admirably, seems unconcerned by that possibility.
Just don't call it Revenge of the Titans, and we'll be good.
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