Arriving in the summer of 1999, American Pie benefited from its combination of two trends: the new wave of teen movies and the Farrelly-inspired gross-out comedy. To the former it added nudity and sexual explicitness; from the latter it subtracted wit and timing. A hit with audiences, and garnering a surprising amount of positive press, its appeal seems to have been based primarily on an ability to be shocking in the generally prudish climate of '90s filmmaking. What in the '80s would have been simply an above average T&A comedy (to join Fraternity Vacation and Joysticks in steady cable rotation) somehow became an event, and Shannon Elizabeth, an actress of limited ability, became a minor star simply by taking off her shirt. Still, it's a film not entirely devoid of appeal. Chris Klein and Jason Biggs both turn in enduring performances, as does the under-utilized Eugene Levy as Biggs's befuddled father. Adam Herz's script coughs up some funny moments here and there, but the film as a whole is an awkward mess that at one point stops cold for an elaborate diarrhea gag. There's also an unmistakable air of calculation about it. Probably realizing they were filling a void, the Weitz litmus test at any given moment seems to be the material's ability to generate discussion amongst pubescent middle-schoolers, a sure way to create attention, but hardly the standard by which to create an enduring comedy -- of the teen, gross-out, or any other variety.
by Keith Phipps review