The time has come for college sweethearts Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan, wasted here) to get engaged, prompting elation from Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy, as perfect in the role as an actor can get), and his friends Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, in basically a cameo). As the wedding plans get underway, the last person they want on the invite list is notorious troublemaker Steven Stiffler (Seann William Scott). However, when his services are needed, Jim reluctantly invites him in on the wedding, which opens the doors for Stiffler to compete heavily for the best man's position, win the heart of Michelle's sister, Cadence (January Jones, "Anger Management"), and try to keep himself out of trouble long enough for the wedding to go off without a hitch.
"American Wedding" (IMDb listing) is a sweet way to end this winner of the "lucky bastard" sweepstakes of unlikely trilogies. Franchise screenwriter Adam Herz has come back to place the capper on his unexpected 1999 hit "American Pie," and if you liked that mix of lowball gross-out humor and adolescent pathos, then "Wedding" will fit in perfectly. While Herz has been vocal in his displeasure with 2001's "American Pie 2," I enjoyed the monster-hit sequel even more then the original, which I found emotionally fraudulent and comedically insipid. Herz and the "Pie" movies have always been strongest when going after laughs, and "Wedding" is a breezy affair that acts more as a clip reel of funny moments from the other "Pie" films than a true continuation. Half the cast has been jettisoned (goodbye Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth, Natasha Lyonne and Chris Owen), and this newfound focus does wonders for the story and the small percentage of characters left, but destroys the sense of a trilogy Herz wants to close with. The film opens with Jim and Michelle's happiness, but ends with Stiffler as the main character and central dramatic thrust. In "Wedding," Herz doesn't know who to focus on, which leaves Hannigan and Biggs in some pretty thankless roles, but opens up the screen time for the invaluable Levy and the force of nature known as Seann William Scott.
"American Pie's" cornerstones have been the gigantic gross-out gags; ranging from Stiffler's lethal beer-and-semen cocktail in "Pie 1," to Jim's hand-to-penis superglue incident in "Pie 2." Herz seems all too aware of the pressure to deliver the ick, and his desire to up the ante in "Wedding" doesn't pan out. Easy jokes involving Stiffer and Jim's grandmother in a broom closet, together with a pubic hair mishap that includes Jim and a nearby house vent, meet with indifference. These attempts at over-the-top humor feed far too directly into what audiences are expecting, and bring the good natured "Wedding" down a few notches out of desperation. "Pie 2" and "Wedding" are hilarious in the details: when Jim's Dad is overcome with a loving glow when Michelle comes to him for advice, or Stiffler's entrance into the picture, which includes him driving a school bus in a very Stiffler way. I wanted more of the subtle charms that "Wedding" includes from time to time, amid the bare-breasted strippers and gay club dance-offs. Herz is in love with these characters, and it shows, but his attempt to merge every quality that worked in the initial two outings is bungled just a bit, leaving a slight bitter aftertaste to the "Wedding" cake.
While many characters and situations are altered in "American Wedding," the largest change to the series comes in the form of Steven Stiffler. Performed by Seann William Scott, the Stiffler in "Wedding" is a complete change of character than the one found in the previous two installments. It's as if Scott cornered a production assistant right before shooting began and forced the PA to explain to him how Stiffler acted in the other films because he forgot. Sure, the "Stiffmeister" in "Wedding" is still the arrogant, potty-mouthed jerk who seems to get off on his own reprehensibility, but Scott's portrayal of the character here reaches daring cartoon heights of spastic wonders. Stiffler looks like he has a car battery hooked up to his privates by the way he limberly struts around the frame, screaming in people's faces and running through his library of put-downs, sexual innuendos and general debauchery. This doesn't match Scott's previous "Pie" performances, but it creates a new, almost animated version of Stiffler for the world to enjoy. Scott saved the last two films with his hilariously goofball acting style and utter dedication to his character's lack of character, and he comes through like a champ in "Wedding," even when Herz misguidedly pushes Stiffler to the center square for this sequel. And for fans of Stiffler's continual humiliation, there's a special treat in store that trumps all other gross outs.
Let's just say Divine and John Waters would be proud.
Filmfodder Grade: B