Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 26, 2005)
Six years ago, American Pie emerged as a sleeper hit in the summer of 1999. Actually, that was a great season for out of nowhere successes, as it also featured surprises like The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project.
Of those three, only Pie launched a franchise. 2001’s American Pie 2 actually out-grossed the original. While Pie made $101 million, its sequel took in $145 million. 2003’s American Wedding declined from that peak, but its $104 million still topped the first movie.
Although the suits at Universal decided not to pursue more theatrical Pie flicks, Wedding didn’t mark the end of the franchise. We get a new chapter with the 2005 straight-to-video film American Pie Presents Band Camp. This movie focuses on Stifler’s younger brother Matt (Tad Hilgenbrink). Just like Steve, Matt is a sex-obsessed obnoxious jerk who rubs almost everyone the wrong way.
At least he doesn’t lack for self-confidence, and one of his pranks gets him in trouble with school counselor Chuck Sherman (Chris Owen). “The Shermanator” from the original flick, he disliked the elder Stifler and takes out his disdain on Matt. Instead of expulsion, Sherman enacts an even more terrible punishment: Matt must spend a summer at band camp.
Matt decides to make the most of this when he remembers tales of wild band geek sex. He plans to videotape these shenanigans and make money off videos. At the camp, he’s reunited with Elyse (Ariel Kebbel), a childhood friend who he shunned as he grew older. Neither of them cares for each other, and their initial interactions are negative.
Matt is up to his old tricks, and his methods earn him many enemies. Among them are arrogant rich kid Brandon Vandecamp (Matt Barr), and the pair snipe at each other throughout the film. After a rough start, Matt takes the advice of the conflict resolution counselor, Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy) and starts to make friends. This leads inevitably to romance with Elyse and various complications as we lurch toward the requisite happy ending.
Many movie franchises decline in quality as they progress, but Pie is notable due to the rapidity of its fall. For comparison, I can only think of the four Lethal Weapon flicks. The first one was good, but the second one significantly worse, the third one crummier than that, and the fourth one nearly unwatchable.
That’s the situation we greet with the abysmal Band Camp. Back when I reviewed Pie 2, I stated that “Stifler would look ridiculous if they tried to turn him into a real human being.” That kind of character works as a secondary role for laughs. The Pie franchise made Stifler less effective in its sequels because it relied too much on him. Stifler works in small doses and can’t carry a film on his own.
Camp makes the situation even worse because it does exactly what I feared when I reviewed Pie 2: it tries to make Stifler a full-fledged person and not just a smutty joke. Matt may not be Steve, but as depicted in the film, they’re really the same character. Hilgenbrink channels Seann William Scott with a very accurate impression. That doesn’t make Hilgenbrink one-tenth as funny as Scott, but at least he makes the kid look and sound like a Stifler.
However, Matt changes stripes mid-movie and indeed attempts to become a real boy. He doesn’t totally lose his obnoxiousness, but the film tries to have him grow and learn. Big mistake! The shift occurs so rapidly that it never appears believable, and the whole thing comes across as insipid and insincere. During the first act, Matt is even more unbearably grating than Steve ever was, but we’re supposed to accept a sudden change of heart?
Perhaps I could accept this predictable plot device if the movie did anything else in a competent manner. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than the same reheated shtick. We see lots of disgusting situations and puerile moments. Not a single one of them registers as funny. The film even rips off a lame source like Not Another Teen Movie when it uses a wacky Asian kid who talks like a gangsta. That wasn’t amusing in Teen, and it doesn’t work any better here.
2005 should go down as the year in which Eugene Levy officially changed his name to “Do Anything For a Buck”. He and Owen are the only actors who also appeared in the original Pie. (Owen reprised his role in Pie 2, while Levy has shown up in all four flicks.) In addition to Camp, Levy’s 2005 included The Man and Cheaper By the Dozen 2. All that after a 2004 with New York Minute and a 2003 with Dumb and Dumberer and Bringing Down the House. Only A Mighty Wind redeems Levy in this run of dreck.
I hate to badmouth Levy. I’ve often mentioned my long-term affection for SCTV, and it pains me to see one of its stars follow this path. However, I can’t ignore the obvious: Levy will work in any movie for which he gets a paycheck.
That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from his appearance in Camp. There’s no logical reason for Jim’s dad to work at the band camp. The film offers a shoddy excuse for this, but it doesn’t make any sense. The flick gives the character little to do, so I suppose he’s there simply to act as a connection to the prior movies.
If there’s a fifth Pie film, I hope Levy will come to his senses and decline to appear in it. What I hope most, though, is that there’s no fifth Pie flick. Pie 2 and American Wedding were weak movies, and American Pie Presents Band Camp is even worse. This is a crass, unoriginal and unpleasant experience.