American Wedding - Unrated Gift Set Review

Note: This review is for the limited edition gift set, which features an additional disc dedicated to a 3 and a half hour documentary. If you have only bought the single-disc version, subtract 3 points from my "extras" score and reduce the overall rating to a 6.

American Wedding
is the third and supposedly final installment of the American Pie saga, a series of gross-out teen movies that have restored interest in a seemingly dead niche of the comedy genre. The first film was a surprising success, transforming its young stars (most of whom were unknowns) into hot property overnight, and even the more conservative critics had to grudgingly admit that its creators had come up with a working blend of comedy, drama and sheer exploitation. A lot of people had some misgivings when they heard that a third film was in production, but despite reservations the film ended up being not only successful but, for many people, the best of the trilogy.

The story this time round, as the title suggests, is the wedding of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). In reality, of course, the plot is secondary to the comedy set-pieces, most of which involve Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott), who has gone from being a throwaway character in the original American Pie to being all but the main star of this installment. Whenever Stifler is not onscreen, the film becomes decidedly less interesting, and although the wedding is the premise around which everything is built, there seems to be very little at stake. In the first film, the characters’ mission was to lose their virginity, and it worked because, despite its triviality, the odds were stacked against them and success wasn’t a given. This time round, it doesn’t really seem to matter because there don’t seem to be any serious hurdles for them to overcome.

Luckily, writer Adam Herz (who created the concept and penned the other two movies as well) compensates for the hokey plot by cranking the comedy level up several notches. The situations the unwitting characters get themselves into are often predictable, but remain funny because they take things to extremes beyond anything the previous two movies approached. A deceptively easy joke involving the homophobic Stifler entering a gay bar branches out in a completely different direction when it turns into a dance-off between Stifler and one of the bar’s patrons. Another is the hilarious bachelor party sequence, which initially appears to simply be a means of providing the film’s obligatory “tit shots”, but quickly develops into something much more funny courtesy of some great unfortunate coincidences.


The majority of the cast members are all competent, but as usual Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy are the ones who shine the most. In particular, Scott’s portrayal of Stifler this time round is so hyperkinetic and exaggerated that he dominates every scene he appears in. Considering that the central storyline is Jim and Michelle’s wedding, it’s a shame Alyson Hannigan doesn’t get more screen time. I can only assume that Buffy commitments prevented her from appearing more often (she certainly mentions during the commentary that she was filming both at the same time). Likewise, the ever-funny Eugene Levy only makes a few appearances – which, at least, is in keeping with the previous two films. Newcomer January Jones, who plays Michelle’s sister Cadence, seems a little out of her league at times, but this is perhaps to be expected, considering that she is trying hard to fit into an already established group.

A lot has been made of the fact that a number of the original characters are missing from this installment, but in all honesty their lack of presence does not hurt the movie. If anything, it improves it, since it makes the plot a little more focused than American Pie 2, where a number of characters simply seemed like baggage. According to the people interviewed in the documentary on Disc 2, the smaller cast was a conscious decision made by the screenwriter, and that the only actor that they wanted but were unable to get was Chris Klein. I could be skeptical and suggest that perhaps a number of the actors had chosen not to associate themselves with the film and therefore refused to appear, but, considering that all of them show up and gleefully chip in during Disc 2’s documentary, this theory seems somewhat dubious. As it is, the only real “floater” in American Wedding is Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), who seems to serve very little purpose. Reportedly a lot of his scenes were cut after test audiences found them boring.


The budget for American Wedding was higher than that of the previous two movies combined, and while a lot of that seems to have gone into paying the inflated salaries of Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott ($10 million each versus less than $1 million for Alyson Hannigan), the look of the film is decidedly richer and more ambitious than its predecessors. This is immediately made noticeable due to the change in aspect ratio (2.35:1 versus 1.85:1 for the first two installments), but the more ambitious techniques become most apparent during the gay bar dance-off, which exhibits surprisingly elaborate cinematography and lighting. Of course, this is at the end of the day a fairly workman-like effort, and the subject matter hardly facilitates anything more than the bare essentials in terms of camerawork, but the look of this installment is a step up from the previous two films.

One thing that wasn’t apparent to me when I saw it at the cinema is that the film decidedly loses its momentum in the second half. After the bachelor party sequence, which falls square in the middle of the movie, the only really momentous gag is the one involving Stifler and some dog excrement. There are other jokes, yes, but bizarrely the film actually starts becoming serious (apart from the odd gag inserted here and there) at the end. This hurts the balance to some extent, and it would have been much better if the comedy and the drama had been spaced out more. Overall, though, American Wedding is a very entertaining film. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it makes for an enjoyable and reasonably satisfying two hours, and in my opinion it is the best of the trilogy.

Note regarding the unrated cut:
This DVD contains both the original R-rated cut and a new, extended unrated version. Most of the material in this new cut that wasn’t present in the theatrical release takes place during the bachelor party. It’s unclear how much (if any) of the material was genuinely cut due to the demands of censors, but the majority of the newly inserted footage feels more like a “greatest hits” montage than an actual part of the movie. Characters change clothes and move to different places between shots only to move back in a future shot, and on a number of occasions the actors seem to break character. I feel that this footage would have been much better if it was included in a blooper reel instead of being inserted back into the movie itself. The result is that the R-rated version actually feels like a more coherent movie than the unrated version, which is a shame, because the unrated cut also inserts a rather amusing scene featuring Stifler and Finch at the hotel clerk’s desk. Beyond this, the other additions are basically minor lines of dialogue that have been reinserted here and there, and unless you’re paying attention you’re unlikely to notice them.




Picture

American Wedding is presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. A 4x3 version is also available separately, but since the film was shot in scope (as opposed to being matted for widescreen presentations), I wouldn’t even like to think what the results are like.

The presentation here is not very good, certainly not good enough for such a recent film. The black level is quite appalling, with characters and objects that are in shadow disappearing into murky greys with little or no definition. The lighter colours tend to bloom excessively, and at times can be quite hard to separate. For instance, during the party at Jim’s house near the beginning of the film, the colour of Alyson Hannigan’s arms looks so similar to the shirt she is wearing that it looks like her outfit has sleeves, when in fact it doesn’t. The level of detail is acceptable, but has clearly been heavily filtered, so the end result doesn’t look much like film. The only really positive thing I can say about this transfer is that there are no obvious compression artifacts.




Sound

The 384 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is perfectly adequate for a film that doesn’t require much in the way of surround effects. The rears are almost entirely used for the film’s music (both the licensed rock tunes and Christophe Beck’s score). The result is a serviceable but unremarkable track, which is in keeping with the audio presentation of the previous two American Pie films. At least Universal didn’t waste space on a pointless DTS track this time round.




Menu

Similar to the DVD for American Pie 2, American Wedding’s menus use clips and music from the film for transitions, with static freeze-frames for the menus themselves. The transitions are overlong and, while admittedly amusing once or twice, soon become extremely repetitive. Even more offensively, a number of trailers run when you insert the disc, and the only way of skipping these is to hold down the fast-forward button. This seems to be a new practice at Universal - the US DVD of Swimming Pool has exactly the same “feature”.




Packaging

The cover artwork is pretty mediocre, but there’s nothing majorly wrong with it. It reminds me quite a lot of EIV’s output: cheap-looking, but seemingly intended to be like that.

The Gift Set includes two amaray cases and a free T-shirt inside a rather flimsy plastic box. The problem being, unfortunately, that if you remove something from it, the whole thing contorts. It’s something of a shame that Universal didn’t invest a little more effort into the packaging of what is supposed to be a Gift Set.




Extras

Universal has provided a reasonably handsome number of extras that, unlike the DVDs of the previous two films, contain more useful features than pointless “music highlights” and “funniest scenes”.

Deleted scenes - A total of 12 deleted and extended scenes are included here, each with an introduction by either Adam Herz or Seann William Scott. Quite a few scenes here are very funny (including a highly amusing reaction from Michelle’s father to Jim’s pubic hair-shaving escapade), but there are also a number of floaters that were obviously cut simply because they didn’t work.

Outtakes - 6 minutes’ worth of outtakes are included, and as usual they range from amusing to downright boring. I’m sorry, but actors messing up their lines are rarely funny. An extremely annoying banner proclaiming “Outtake!” is pasted across the bottom of the screen for the duration of the running time.

Stifler Speak featurette - A surprisingly interesting 7-minute featurette that is basically a lesson in how to speak like Stifler.

Enter the Dominatrix featurette - An over-long but at least semi-interesting look behind the scenes at the making of the bachelor party sequence.

Director’s commentary - Director Jesse Dylan and actor Seann William Scott team up for an amusing and often insightful commentary. A decent amount of information is conveyed, and although the two do begin to flag towards the film’s conclusion, they do, for the most part, manage to keep going. The funniest moment is when Scott rips into Dude, Where’s My Car?, another teen comedy in which he starred as a Stifler clone. Essentially, he says that the commentary was terrible but still better than the film. It’s quite interesting to see just how different he is from the character he plays: he comes across as intelligent and has clearly put a lot of effort into the role. He also states, quite emphatically, that he doesn’t believe there will be another American Pie film.

Cast commentary - The cast commentary is much weaker than the director’s commentary, although I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the participants or the studio for making them record a commentary when they hadn’t even seen the film. Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas all try to come up with something to say, but all too often they just don’t have anything worthwhile to convey or get caught up watching the film for the first time. I have often felt that actors rarely create worthwhile commentaries unless paired up with someone who can either ask them questions or supplement their knowledge with more behind the scenes info (like the Dylan and Scott commentary on this disc). That said, if Alyson Hannigan was reading a telephone directory I would probably still listen.

Grooming the Groom featurette - This is a 6-minute behind the scenes look at the special effects work involved in filming the pubic hair-shaving scene.

Cheesy wedding video - Another of those baffling featurettes. This very brief montage is edited to look just like one of those family wedding videos that professional companies can put together for you, and it’s almost as bad as the real thing.

Nikki’s Hollywood journal - This incredibly pointless and over-long featurette shows Nikki Schieler Ziering (Officer Crystal from the bachelor party) preparing to go to the American Wedding premiere. Quite apart from it being completely disturbing to see just how much effort she puts into preparing for a movie premiere, it also quickly becomes incredibly boring.

The real meat and potatoes, so to speak, is in the American Pie Revealed documentary that is contained on the second disc of the gift set. People who have only bought the standard single-disc edition are definitely missing out on something good here. Essentially, this is a 3-and-a-half-hour documentary charting the history of the series from its inception all the way to the release of American Wedding. The whole thing is very well-made and informative, and certainly gives the bonus materials on the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions a serious run for their money. All the main participants are interviewed, including writer Adam Herz, the directors of each of the three installments, the producers, and the entire main cast of the trilogy. Watching this documentary, you get something of an idea of just how much work went into creating these deceptively simple movies.

The documentary is divided into numerous sections and sub-sections, with a handy “Play All” button, but to be honest, the best way of watching is to work through each section manually, since the “Play All” function tends to play the segments in a slightly strange order, particularly towards the end of the documentary. For example, it has a retrospective piece that takes the form of members of the cast and crew having a reunion dinner and discussing their memories of the series, but after that a number of additional featurettes play.

Overall, the extras rating would be a lot lower but for the American Pie Revealed documentary. If you only buy the single-disc edition, you’re definitely missing out on a lot of good stuff.




Conclusion

American Wedding should go down a treat for fans of the series’ previous installments. It’s a shame that the visual presentation of this DVD is so lacklustre, as are many of the first disc’s extras. The documentary that comes with the Gift Set more than makes up for it, though, and the humour of the film shines through despite the disappointing image quality. Whether you’ve seen the film already or missed it at the cinema, this is definitely one to pick up.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
5 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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