February 21, 2002

On The Wire

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In light of recently released movies such as the teen flick Crossroads (debuting the “princess of pop” Britney Spears in her first cinematic endeavor) and the pseudo-romantic drama A Walk to Remember, (starring newcomer actress and pop singer Mandy Moore), fans of the ever-expanding genre of teen movies should scramble to their local rental venue rather than their local movie theaters. While I have not — and probably will not — see these movies in a movie theater, I decided to bide my time waiting for the next line of teen flicks by viewing a relatively new teen movie release on video or DVD.

According to www.blockbuster.com, the top ten DVD rentals of the week include films such as Rat Race, American Pie 2, Rock Star, The Fast and the Furious, and The Score. Missing its debut this summer, I chose to rent the sequel to the hilarious comedy American Pie. Starring Jason Biggs, Elizabeth Shannon, and the rest of the original cast, this sequel returns with familiar characters involved in familiar antics that represent all-too-familiar teen scenarios.

After completing their first year of college, the original cast of American Pie has reunited to continue their teen melodrama of comedy, laughter, and, yes, you’ve guessed it, love. As the characters spend their summer after freshman year discovering “the big picture” of life, this sequel basically ties up all the loose ends, and, (un)fortunately, leaves little room for another hit in the American Pie series. Guided by Kevin’s brother, who once again plays the role of the veteran older sibling providing Kevin and company with the secrets to all their adolescent gripes, these five companions have ultimately found the meaning of friendship.

Despite the fact that this flick encompasses all the necessary characteristics of the typical teen movie, it somehow replaced the component of originality found in its predecessor with the component of predictability. While cute and comical, this film merely extended the conclusion of its precursor, and left little for the audience to deliberate over.

Although it can be catalogued as a valuable asset to the young comedic genre in one’s DVD collection, the entire premise of American Pie 2 raises the long-time debate of “the sequel.” While I found this movie to be amusing and entertaining, I wonder whether the notion of “the sequel” forces creators to try and match not only the level of success of the original, but also forces the creative team to follow the guidelines laid out by the original. It seems as if the producers of every blockbuster hit, especially those in the teen comedy and drama arena, are compelled to produce more of the same issues, more from the same characters, more of the same recycled themes.

Every one of Jim’s inadequate sexual forays had to become more exaggerated, every speech given by Jim’s father had to become more corny, every Stifler joke had to become more demeaning, and every romantic word from Oz’s mouth about relationships had to become more sentimental.

Being a typical teen movie, my attention was obviously rapt in the movie’s comedic focus. Yet in the end, my expectations were raised a bit too high for another helping of American Pie, a helping which ultimately failed to serve, as promised on the collector’s edition DVD, “more laughs than the original.” In short, I laughed, but I didn’t laugh hard enough.

Of course, not every sequel suffers from this dramatized Hollywood legacy-curse — the Austin Powers craze, the Superman and Godfather series, and even American Pie 2, to an extent, have merit as individual flicks. Apparently more mature sequels have made the grade, but what about the Scream trilogy, or I Know What You Did (every) Summer, or even the obsolete upset of Grease 2? The stale plots of many teen sequels unfortunately make these releases just “another teen movie.” Has there been no lesson learned from Saved By the Bell: The College Years? Yes, they grew up, but perhaps we would like to remember Zach, Kelly, Slater, and Screech as mere California high school kids.

We can expect the sequel to Men in Black (aptly entitled Men in Black 2) later this year, and can judge for ourselves whether the directors should have left well enough alone and if it only deserves commendation as a DVD rental. Other sequels on deck in 2002 are Mike Myers’ Austin Power In Goldmember, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. Although the precursors to these movies have all had stellar Hollywood success, we’ll just have to wait to see if the next installation in their series bring as much acclaim as their forebears.

Perhaps the creators of films such as E.T., which is scheduled to be re-released in March, knew how to best go about retravelling a concept that they knew worked — they took the original movie and decided to introduce it to new viewers, or reacquaint old viewers, to the storyline that has become a classic. One would never think of messing with the original E.T. (ok, maybe just a little bit of messing — they did eliminate the guns!).

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