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More 'Pie'; Another sequel reunites cast, for better or worse

In the annals of memorable cinematic couplings, Jason Biggs and an apple pie do not compare favorably to Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider and a stick of butter in "Last Tango in Paris," or even Vincent Gallo, Chloe Sevigny and a (possible) prosthetic in "The Brown Bunny."

Still, the sheer chutzpah involved in making 1999's "American Pie" must be acknowledged. Here was a teen sex romp that not only included a scene of its star inserting himself into a pie, but actually called itself "American Pie," a reference I assume Don McLean did not originally intend.

It was a smash, and in addition to launching the careers of Biggs, Seann William Scott and Alyson Hannigan, it spawned a cottage industry of sub-"National Lampoon," direct-to-DVD trash, as well as three legitimate sequels, culminating in the new "American Reunion."

But let's be honest. "American Pie" was marginal entertainment at best, an occasionally quite funny ("One time, at band camp "), well-cast (especially Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge) bit of fluff. It was, and is, pink slime cinema, a "naughty" mix of T-and-A and stock characters with all the edges ground away -- it doesn't taste terrible, but don't look too closely at the ingredients.

Consider "American Reunion," then, an example of misguided Hollywood nostalgia -- a wannabe-wistful revisiting of something that wasn't particularly memorable to begin with. It's not quite new nu-metal or Crystal Pepsi: The Remix, but I can think of many casts from 1999 I'd rather see reunited.

We last left Jim (Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) walking down the aisle in 2003's "American Wedding," and nine years on, the entire gang has returned (as a friend too harshly put it, "The worst ensemble cast in movie history!"): Scott, Chris Klein, Tara "She's still in movies?" Reid, Mena Suvari and Eddie Kaye Thomas.

We open on a truly funny scene involving the married and stuck in a rut Jim and Michelle, and their 2-year-old, and quickly see what's become of everyone. Oz (Klein) is a "Sportscenter"-style anchor, Finch (Thomas) has traveled the world, and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) exists. (Seriously, I can't for the life of me figure out why his adds-nothing character is here.)

It's high school reunion time, and all descend back to their hometown for predictable antics. Some of them are very funny, especially a drawn-out sequence involving a trashed, naked 18-year-old girl who must be snuck inside her house -- with mom and dad downstairs, of course.

The highlight of this sequence, and most of the others, is Scott, whose Stifler remains an inspired mix of lunacy and idiocy. His performance is utterly over-the-top, and just right.

Post-"Pie" success has not come easily for most of the cast. While Hannigan is the female lead on one of TV's most popular comedies, "How I Met Your Mother," and Scott has appeared in a number of hits (and some misses), and is drawing acclaim for his performance in the hockey flick "Goon," Biggs, in particular, has found it difficult to move into "adult" roles.

But he's just right here, the same mix of nerves and likability that made him the first film's standout.

Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have a solid track record, having written all three "Harold and Kumar" films, and co-directing the middle installment in the surprisingly witty series. With "American Reunion," they have written and directed an utterly forgettable but occasionally serviceable comedy that will please "Pie" acolytes.

***

 AMERICAN REUNION    

2 stars (out of 4)    

STARRING: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy    

DIRECTORS: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg    

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes    

RATING: R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking.    

THE LOWDOWN: The "American Pie" gang returns for a reunion.