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News » Film & TV

Just Dessert

Amercian Pie 2 lays off the coming-of-age sappiness for funnier, tastier second helping.



A year after the four stark-raving heterosexual teenage guys from American Pie simultaneously scored on prom night, they’ve all returned to the shores of Lake Michigan for more debauchery. Last time, American Pie 2 tells us, they were only interested in getting it. This time, they want to get it right.

Cinema ClipsNew This Week

All the President’s Men

The story that toppled a president and deluded an entire generation into believing journalism was sexy and exciting. Opens August 17 at the Jordan Commons Classics Series. (PG)

American Outlaws

[not yet reviewed]

Because two Young Guns movies weren’t enough to forever turn you off to the entire Western genre. Opens August 17 at theaters valley-wide. (PG-13)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

[not yet reviewed]

WWII-era drama with Nicolas Cage as a reluctant Italian soldier stationed in occupied Greece and romancing Penélope Cruz. Yeah, life’s really tough, Captain. Opens August 17 at theaters valley-wide. (R)

The Luzhin Defence

[not yet reviewed]

John Turturro and Emily Watson star in what is likely the only period romance set in the world of world-class competitive chess. Opens August 17 at the Tower Theater. (PG-13)

The Man Who Cried

[not yet reviewed]

The adventures of a WWII-era Russian emigrant (Christina Ricci) as she tries to avoid having a romance with Nicolas Cage. Opens August 17 at the Tower Theater. (R)

The Neverending Story

A bookish lad learns the power of fantasy through the wisdom of freakish mutant Muppets. At Tower Theater Midnight Movies, August 17-18. (PG)

Rat Race **1/2

See review this page. Opens August 17 at theaters valley-wide. (PG-13)

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine **

You know, I feel for Bahman Farmanara. The Iranian director was forbidden by government censors from making a film in his native country for over 20 years, losing the best years of his artistic life. Does that mean he needed to turn the film he finally did get to make into a massive pity party? Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine finds Farmanara playing an Iranian filmmaker who—what are the odds—also hadn’t been allowed to make a film in his native country for over 20 years. The film essentially plays out as a woe-is-me meditation on mortality, with “Bahman” the character facing constant reminders of his lost youth and imminent death as he prepares a documentary on Iranian funeral rituals. Every once in a while, Farmanara shows a mordant sense of humor about life’s absurdities, like the technical glitch that robs him of his pre-paid burial plot. Too often, though, he dwells on his own difficult life to a somewhat embarrassing degree. Even sadder than waiting half your life to make another film is finally making that film and having it be little more than a purgative self-help therapy session. Plays August 22 at Tower Theater One Night Stands, 7 p.m. (NR)—SR

Current Releases

American Pie 2 ***

See review p. 32

The Others **1/2

There’s a nice throwback vibe to The Others, a thriller for those who prefer haunted house movies with atmospheric spookiness to computer-generated booga-booga. Too bad it ultimately succumbs to the contemporary obsession with twisty-turny plots. Nicole Kidman stars as an Englishwoman circa 1945, caring for her two light-sensitive kids in a big dark house while her husband is MIA in France. Director Alejandro Amenábar amps up the tension with menacing whispers and slamming doors, while tacitly promising an eventual character-based psychological payoff. That makes it kind of a bummer when the payoff never materializes. The whole film becomes a machine—albeit a well-oiled machine—designed to pull you along to the climactic revelations. It may be too smug about pulling out the rug, but at least it doesn’t club you over the head. (PG-13)—SR

Osmosis Jones **1/2

Fantastic Voyage meets There’s Something About Mary by way of Looney Tunes in the jumbled, silly, sporadically amusing Osmosis Jones. In live action directed by the Farrelly Brothers, slovenly zookeeper Frank (Bill Murray) is nagged by his young daughter to live a healthier life. Meanwhile, inside Frank, a teeming cellular City of Frank unfolds in wild animation, with Chris Rock voicing a cop/white blood cell battling a deadly virus with the help of an earnest cold pill (David Hyde-Pierce). The animated portions teem with goofy marginalia, extending the body-as-city metaphor in more (and more clever) ways than seems possible. But eventually we’re obliged to return to the life of Frank, where the Farrellys are hamstrung by family sentimentality and a PG rating. On the microscopic level, Osmosis Jones is a blast; outside Frank’s skin, ironically, is where it feels cramped. (PG)—SR

Rush Hour 2 **1/2

The LAPD’s finest (Chris Tucker) and the pride of the HKPD (Jackie Chan) team up again for entertaining kung-fu-fightin’ comedy. The best fun here is watching Tucker, whose bug-eyed ferocity lends an unorthodox spin to what could have been a straight leading man’s role. Det. James Carter just isn’t very nice at heart, and that’s how most of the fun arises when he vacations with his old buddy in Hong Kong. They get caught up in a bombing and counterfeiting farrago that sets up laughs and high-kicking with equal facility. Chan’s stunts are solid—though there’s no show-stopper—and Zhang Ziyi is frivolous fun as one of the litany of villains. There’s an overall element of sameness even beyond normal sequel-itis, but that’s not a terrible thing. There’s nothing here you don’t expect—and just about everything you do. (PG-13)—GB

Original Sin *

Apparently sensing a need for more theatrically released soft-core porn set in 19th-century Cuba, director Michael Cristofer made this straight-faced attempt at a sexy noir. It’d be hilarious, if it weren’t so sad seeing all these people taking it so seriously. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story but bereft of the author’s mysterious foreboding, it’s the story of a big-time coffee planter (Antonio Banderas) who gets a mail-order bride from Delaware (!)—but Julia (Angelina Jolie, with latex paint on her tattoos) isn’t what she seems. Both actors never sell their period parts, and the script isn’t much more than a bunch of labored references to obvious noir plot devices. Even the copious sex is less original than a Red Shoe Diaries episode. Antonio would have been better off with Darva Conger. (R)—GB

The Princess Diaries **

If Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) has to make movies, I suppose this is the arena in which he can do the least harm. The Princess Diaries is one of those innocuous live-action films Disney used to make in the ’70s, a Cinderella tale about a geeky San Francisco teenager (Anne Hathaway) who learns that she’s heir to a tiny European monarchy. Like a first-grader in a 60-year-old body, Marshall smothers everything he touches in sickening sweetness, but since this is a big bowl of Frosted Flakes to begin with, you scarcely notice. It’s a silly, sluggish endeavor, but Hathaway makes a perky heroine, Hector Elizondo is typically reliable and it’s nice to see Julie Andrews again, even doing broad reaction takes. Hey, if it keeps Marshall away from so-called “grown-up” films, so much the better. (G)—SR

Planet of the Apes **1/2

Humans get beaten down once again in director Tim Burton’s entertaining, strangely tame re-imagining of the 1968 chimp camp classic. From virtuoso makeup man Rick Baker to an army of set and costume designers, unbelievable energy is devoted to building a better simian—the better to torment marooned astronaut Mark Wahlberg. The monkey suits are fantastic, and the apes’ world is an evocative, dystopian wonderland. Burton has always valued mood over plot, however, and the storytelling strides he made in Sleepy Hollow have been lost. He seems so set on deploying his surprise ending, he forgets to set it up with something we can sink our teeth into. The dialogue grates, the plot doesn’t move beyond an Escape-from-Apeland vibe, and it’s simply hard to suppress a chuckle at Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth wearing chimp costumes, no matter how serious they may be. (PG-13)—GB

Jurassic Park III **

Jurassic Park III represents the inevitable slackness that results when a franchise hits its third go-round, but it also proves how dangerous it can be to show up just a few minutes tardy for the latest visual party. Sam Neill returns as tour guide for another trip to dinosaur-infested territory, with an emphasis on running and screaming. Director Joe Johnston does a passable job of filling Spielberg’s shoes, but it’s not his fault that, as new and improved as the dinos might be, this is still the third time around. It’s tolerable, time-passing thrill ride filmmaking as we’ve come to expect it, with thrills that aren’t quite thrilling enough. In an age where state-of-the-art lasts about fifteen minutes, you’ve got to do more to capture imaginations that have been there, and seen that. (PG-13)—SR

America’s Sweethearts *

Phonier than Billy Crystal’s hairline, this is one of the lowest points ever in cinema’s most masturbatory genre: movies about movies. Julia Roberts and John Cusack, both looking confused and embarrassed, play the sister/personal assistant and estranged husband, respectively, of movie star Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones). They’re all headed to a media junket where a publicist (Crystal) will attempt to mislead the entertainment press about their relationship. Vain, cheap, artificial, clumsily made and utterly charmless, it’s every bad thing you’d expect from a film written by the malevolent Crystal and directed by out-of-touch studio boss Joe Roth. The usually wonderful Cusack has never been worse, while Roberts has nothing to do. Unlikable and unwatchable in every aspect, America’s Sweethearts tells a tedious story about tedious characters. If you can find one funny line, you’re Crystal’s real sweetheart. (PG-13)—GB

The Score ***

The Score is a heist thriller stripped down to sinew and bone, with characters sketched just enough to set up the centerpiece theft. Cast the best actors of three generations—Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and Marlon Brando—in those roles, and you see how much can be done with very little. The plot treads the familiar ground of Weary Veteran doing One Last Job with Young Upstart, but the cast’s collective charisma makes nearly every scene more fun than it has any business being. Add deft direction by Frank Oz that keeps the action crackling along, and you’ve got a simple (but never simplistic) genre pleasure. The third act twists prove fairly arbitrary, but there’s so much good will built up by that point that even the random “gotchas” inspire a grin. Every acting clinic should be this entertaining. (R)—SR

And they do. American Pie 2 is more fun, more fluid and even more shameless than the original, which wasn’t so much skilled as enthusiastic—sort of like Jim (Jason Biggs), our hapless Everyman who still can’t even jerk off without embarrassing his entire family.

A few missteps aside, the sequel is bursting with more barkingly funny gags than the original, which too often dwelt on sappy coming-of-age garbage that felt counterfeit in an otherwise gleefully smutty film. The credit goes to Adam Herz, who wrote the original and who returns with J.B. Rogers (Say It Isn’t So) in the director’s chair. They identified what worked in the first film and brought it back, which means their sequel is concerned with little more than having a good time with actors who are growing up along with their characters. Though still quite good-natured, American Pie 2 is a straight-up comedy that doesn’t spend too much time contemplating the deep meanings of post-adolescence—not when it could be peeing on somebody from a balcony or deploying a non-sequitur scene involving housebreaking, dildos and lesbians.

In fact, it is in many ways a remake of the original—or perhaps the second episode of a television series, fine-tuned and sharpened after the pilot’s problems were excised. Many of the jokes mirror earlier ones, only with more comedic charge. Boring characters get pushed into the background, while the most interesting ones—like Stifler (Seann William Scott), the quintessential high school jerk turned college jerk—get more attention than before.

American Pie 2 takes place one year after our four heroes graduated from high school. With the first year of college finished and nothing to do for the summer, they rent a beach house for partying. For Jim, it’s a chance to recruit some sexual tackling dummies for practice before an end-of-summer hookup with Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth, with that accent that’s as obviously faux as her boobs), the Czech exchange student who’s headed back to town.

It’s compelling to see the entire cast reunited, and the actors’ familiarity lends shades of detail to the otherwise zany proceedings. The comic interaction between Biggs and Eugene Levy, back as Jim’s gloriously bewildered dad, is some of the funniest stuff on screen in recent years. Levy’s deadpan, hangdog delivery has never been better employed, and Biggs is really quite skillful in physical comedy, including a scene involving Superglue, a porno tape and a walk on a rooftop.

The most boring, Dobie-Gillis-with-a-boner characters from American Pie—Chris Klein as slack-jawed sweetie-pie Oz, and bad actor Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin—make little more than cameos here. Ditto for their squeezes from the first film, played by Tara Reid (Carson Daly apparently stole both her heart and her stomach, because she looks like she hasn’t eaten in at least 11 months) and Mena Suvari, respectively. In fact, the girls don’t factor much here at all. Where the original went to great lengths to establish gender equity in horndoggedness, the sequel is pointed squarely at the guys—with the exception of Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), the flute-playing supafreak who used Jim like a Kleenex in the first film.

Jim enlists Michelle’s help to prepare for Nadia’s arrival, and her instruction involves shoving a trumpet into places a trumpet shouldn’t go. Michelle and Stifler are the only characters who are, uh, explored more thoroughly in the sequel, and Hannigan responds with a sweetly charming performance.

It’s important to remember that American Pie 2 doesn’t pretend to be a slice of real life. This world of lipstick lesbians, supermodel prom dates and endless, hedonistic house parties doesn’t exist. Just relax and enjoy the fun of watching guys and girls growing up in a post-adolescent splendor you’ll never visit except from the safety of the theater.

It’s too bad most of the parties involved say there’s no way there’ll be American Pie 3. This is a recipe for good pastry.

American Pie 2 (R) HHH Directed by J.B. Rogers. Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott.