'American Wedding' consummates series

...And it's not as bad as you'd think

You would think that Jim Levinstein (Jason Biggs) would be humiliation-proof by now.

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Special to the Journal-World

Jason Biggs, left, plays a prospective groom and Eugene Levy his concerned father in "American Wedding."

On his way to sexual enlightenment, he's suffered about as much as one Jewish kid from Michigan can.
"These things KEEP happening to me," he says in "American Wedding," resigned to the mounting indignities.

What's impressive about this lively sequel is that it goes beyond the type of social humiliation one might experience in his worst high school ordeals to the deeper, emotional kind potentially encountered as a post-grad. This is a world of wedding ring nightmares, in-law misunderstandings and bachelor parties gone remarkably wrong.

When your fiancee's parents believe you're "some ungrateful dog rapist," you know it's going to be a painful engagement.

While not quite as fresh as the original 1999 effort that resuscitated the raunchy teen comedy trend, "American Wedding" is significantly better than its predecessor "American Pie 2." Sure, it's vulgar and episodic, but it's relentlessly funny also. Most admirably, it all builds up to a genuinely sweet conclusion.

"American Wedding" picks up after the gang's graduation from college. Jim has proposed to his band-geek girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), and the two begin planning their nuptials.

NYU-educated buddy Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and pre-law pal Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) lend their support as Jim's groomsmen. But much to their chagrin, the obnoxious Stifler (Seann William Scott) -- now a high school football coach -- is miffed at not being invited to the festivities and tries to weasel his way into the wedding party.

Eventually, Michelle's snooty parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush) and younger sister Cadence (January Jones) arrive in town. The comely Cadence draws the attentions of Stifler and Finch, who'll go to any lengths to outdo each other in winning her favor.

During a summer where extraneous sequels sprout faster than Hydra heads, there are plenty of examples that prove how difficult it is to keep an ongoing series fresh. Writer/creator Adam Herz doesn't try reinventing the formula so much as perfecting the template he's already established, which usually involves public shame and male one-upmanship as the main springboards for comedy.

Another strength of the movie is Herz's sensible omissions.

Movie

American Wedding ***

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The funny finale to the "American Pie" series takes the Michigan gang out of school and puts them into the real world. Disastrous humiliations ensue. Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy are reliable as always. But the real surprise is Seann William Scott, whose manic interpretation of the obnoxious "Stifler" elevates even the cheapest gags to humorous heights.

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The "American Pie" pictures were almost too concerned with giving the large ensemble equal time. Rather than trying to force-feed a bunch of strays into a fairly minimal plot, Herz streamlines the affair. Previous "Pie" characters played by Tara Reid, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne and Mena Suvari are not even mentioned.
Of the cast that endures, Biggs, Hannigan and the treasured Eugene Levy (as Jim's dad) are reliable as always. The real surprise, however, is Scott.

On a recent talk show appearance, Scott revealed he was initially paid only $1,500 for his work as Stifler in "American Pie." Moving from eighth billed then to second billed now, he more than earns his multimillion dollar paycheck. The actor injects enough manic energy into the role to rival Jim Carrey. Even during the movie's weakest moments (a dance at a gay bar that goes on way too long) and cheapest gags (dog poopy, anyone?), Scott attacks these scenes rather than merely performs them.

The 26-year-old star has proven he can headline a feature, even if "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Bulletproof Monk" weren't exactly masterpieces. So if ever there was an excuse to keep this comedic franchise going, it lies with Scott.

Imagine the possibilities of "American Pie 4: Stifler's Wedding."

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