American Pie 2

American Pie 2 (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Eugene Levy, Seann William Scott
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Gag Reel, Music Video, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Crew

In recent years, we’ve become grudgingly accustomed to multiple DVD editions of the same movie. In the beginning, this was due to the remastering of a DVD or a release of a special edition disc to replace the previous release. More recently, the trend has been toward studios releasing two DVDs of the same movie — one <$PS,widescreen> and one <$PS,fullscreen>. Now, Universal Home Video has set out to create a new trend by releasing four editions of "American Pie 2" simultaneously. There will be two <$PS,widescreen> versions, rated and unrated, and two full-frame editions, once again, rated and unrated. (There are actually five editions, if you count the new "American Pie/American Pie 2" 2-pack, which will also be released on the same day!) Is "American Pie 2" worth all of this attention, or is simply a warmed-up rehash of the first film?

"American Pie 2" picks up one year after the conclusion of the first film, as the familiar characters are finishing their first year of college. Jim (Jason Biggs) is still the consummate loser and has yet to master the art of seduction. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has had a good year, but still pines for lost love Vicki (Tara Reid). Oz (Chris Klein) is still dating Heather (Mena Suvari), but is sad that she will be spending the summer in Europe. And Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has taken up the study of Eastern philosophies, but can’t forget about Stifler’s Mom (Jessica Coolidge). The old gang reunites at a party thrown by Stifler (Seann William Scott) and realize that they have to put their high-school years behind them and move forward. Kevin suggests that he, Jim, Oz, and Finch rent a lake-house and throw a wild party to cap off the summer.

Once they get to the lake, their summer adventures begin. Jim learns that Nadia is coming to visit and he’s determined to make her forget about the embarrassing incident from the first film. Finch hopes to master Tantric sex in anticipation from a visit from Stifler’s Mom. Oz tries to deal with the fact that Heather will be gone all summer. And Stifler simply insults everyone and everything in sight. As the summer draws to a close, each of the guys hopes that the party will help them to re-capture the happiness that they feel they’ve lost.

The most surprising thing about "American Pie" was that underneath all of the sophomoric raunchiness, there was a great deal of heart. That heart isn’t beating quite as loudly in the sequel and the film suffers for it. The central theme about moving on with one’s life is a universal one, but the film has a hard time focusing on that idea. Actually, the script doesn’t really focus on anything, as the story randomly bounces from one character to the other, without the consistent rhythm found in "American Pie". This lack of pacing hurts the film at times, especially in the "lesbian" scene, which goes on far too long. And while the story does revolve around the guys and their exploits, it’s very obvious that the actresses involved basically phoned-in their performances as all of them, save for Alyson Hannigan, have very little screen time.

But, the big question with "American Pie 2" is "Is it funny?" And the answer is, yes, especially is you like Stifler. Everyone’s favorite jerk is given much more freedom here than in the first film and he has some of the movie’s best lines. In reality, while the movie wants to focus on Jim, it’s Stifler and Michelle who steal the movie. There isn’t one scene which stands out as being the funniest, although I did enjoy the band concert scenes. The "big" laugh scenes actually fall quite flat in this film (mostly because they were prominently featured in the trailer and therefore held no surprises), but there are many clever and funny throw-away lines here. "American Pie 2" is a perfectly serviceable sequel which doesn’t surpass the first film, but certainly carries on its comedic spirit.

"American Pie 2" rolls onto DVD in a jam-packed Collector’s Edition from Universal Home Video. As with the recent "Evolution" DVD, the fact that the <$RSDL,dual layer> disc is so jammed packed may have actually hurt this release. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The image is sharp, but it is noticeably dark throughout the movie. There is grain visible in most every scene and the image is extremely soft at times. There is no distortion to the image, nor are there any obvious problems caused by edge enhancement or artifacting, but this transfer is disappointing nonetheless. The problem most likely lies in the fact that there are seven audio tracks on the DVD (more on that in a moment) in addition to the film itself and the extra features. Squeezing all of this information onto one DVD has, in this reviewer’s opinion, weakened the intensity of the video transfer.

Fortunately, the audio tracks don’t suffer the same fate. The DVD offers both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track, as well as a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. (There is also a French DD 5.1 track. That’s three audio tracks thus far.) Both of these primary tracks offer clear dialogue and no distortion. The DTS does a better job with the rock music featured in the film, as it sounds a bit flat on the Dolby Digital track. Both offer nice, yet subtle examples of surround sound effects and the limited use of bass response on both tracks is admirable.

The extra features on this DVD are kicked off by four, yes four feature-length audio commentaries. The first features director J.B Rogers, the second with screenwriter Adam Herz, the third with actors Jason Biggs, Thomas Ian Nicholas & Mena Suvari, and the fourth with actor Eddie Kaye Thomas. The best is this bunch is the talk with Herz, as he wrote both "American Pie" and the sequel and has a great deal of insight and knowledge about the films. The dullest is the track with Thomas, as his monotone voice (which sounds exactly like Nicolas Cage at times) is hypnotic and he doesn’t have much to say about certain scenes. The oddest is the one with the trio of actors, as they are rarely serious and Suvari screams a lot for no apparent reason.

We are next treated to a 24-minute featurette entitled "The Baking of American Pie 2". This behind-the-scenes segment offers on-location footage and interviews with the principal cast and crew. There are many moments here of the actors having fun on the set. This brand of tomfoolery is continued in two other segments. First, we have "Good Time with Cast and Crew". Unfortunately, this is not a re-creation of the ’70s sitcom with Seann William Scott as J.J., but simply five minutes of candid footage from the set of the film. There is also a separate gag reel of outtakes, which runs just over five minutes and offers the same kind of shenanigans from the cast. Some of this miscues are funnier than the jokes in the film!

The next two special features will be of particular interest to fans of the "American Pie" films. The first is a series of one minute auditions from the first film. Here we have the casting tapes of Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas. (What, no Stifler?!) It is interesting to see these actors trying on their characters for the first time. The second feature here is called "Your Favorite Piece of Pie" and it offers the top ten scenes from both films as taken from an online poll. I can’t say that I agree with the choices (the top six are from "American Pie 2"), but this is a unique feature nonetheless, and the intro by Seann William Scott is entertaining.

Rounding out the extras are a pair of special chapter menus, one which has the scene categorized by songs (I love these menus) and the other by classic quotes (which is a bit of a stretch). There is a music video for the song "Be Like That" by 3 Doors Down. The theatrical trailer is offered here, <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, and it comes complete with a mock public service message by Jason Biggs, which is very funny. Lastly, we have cast & crew bios and production notes. Also, Universal Showcase is back with a sneak peek at "The Bourne Identity" trailer.

While "American Pie 2" isn’t quite the breath of fresh air that made the first one a hit, it is still a funny film. The story drags in places, but that’s forgivable as the film succeeds as a comedy. The DVD is overloaded with extras and this has caused some problems with the video transfer. While many of the extras are fun, the questionable video image here may cause some potential buyers of this DVD to give pause.