An unknown cast, a limp-dick budget ($11 million), an untried director and a plot recycled from "Porky's" won't stop "American Pie" from hitting box-office pay dirt. It's a prime slice of raunchy fun about four desperate-to-be-devirginized Michigan high school seniors — Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas).
Since the deadline for sex is prom night, three weeks hence, dateless Jim qualifies as the most desperate. He wonders whether the other guys get off like he does on Disney's The Little Mermaid ("that Ariel, man, she's so hot"). His worried dad, deftly deadpanned by Eugene Levy, catches Jim watching illegal porn channels with a sock on his tool and, later, having carnal knowledge of a warm apple pie (he's been told it's the closest approximation to getting to third base). Smutty stuff, but hardly the outrage that nearly stuck Pie with an NC-17 until four appeals to the ratings board and the rejiggering of certain scenes landed an R rating and saved the film from box-office death. What gives?
For starters, there's something about semen. Remember last summer, when Cameron Diaz's Mary rubbed a glob of the stuff in her hair and aroused the ire of prudes and a few critics? Expect similar reactions when American Pie debuts on July 9th. The semen makes its appearance early, and what a star shot it has. Flying in from the direction of a bed occupied by Kevin and his girl, Vicky (Tara Reid), the semen plops pertly into a cup of beer, where it sits until the school bully, Stifler (Seann William Scott), obliviously sucks the beer down, only to retch when he finds out what's in it. Ah, how film comedy has changed since the days when all it took to make an audience titter was the sight of some clown slipping on a banana peel.
Summer '99 is shaping up as a hot time for dirty little boys of all ages. In "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Mike Myers unleashes every randy urge in his Sixties secret-agent man. "Oh, behave!" is Austin-speak for just the opposite. In "Big Daddy," Adam Sandler's slacker doesn't adopt a five-year-old boy just to please his girlfriend — he wants to get laid. In South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut — you have to love a title that wears its leering heart on its sleeve — Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny, those cartoon third-graders from Colorado, take a big-screen, R-rated slam at the censors who are out to shut their potty mouths.
Still, having Pie in your face is the quickest route to gross-out comedy heaven. Instead of the usual sexist bilge, it has female characters who get the last laugh. Vicky has Kevin taking lessons in how to go down on her. Heather (Mena Suvari), the choir singer whom Oz the jock tries to seduce, dissolves in giggles when he asks to be called Nova — as in Casanova. And watch the geeky flutist Michelle (scene-stealing Alyson Hannigan) prove how first impressions are, indeed, deceiving. Standing above the fray is Jessica, played by Natasha Lyonne with a tart-tongued aplomb that keeps the boys in line, especially those who brag about sex they never had. That's you, skinny Sherman (Chris Owen), known — but not for long — as the lady-killing Sherminator.
All the performances are on the money, with Klein — so good in "Election" — and Hannigan, of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," ready for the major leagues. But the standout is Biggs, who finds the heart and the hilarity in Jim. In the film's highlight, Jim secretly videotapes the naked Nadia (knockout Shannon Elizabeth), a foreign-exchange student, for broadcast to his pals on the Internet — and ends up exposing himself as the poster boy for premature ejaculation. Another big yuk is Finch making good on calling Stifler's mom a MILF (Mother I'd Like to Fuck).
With teen movies reaching a formulaic, play-it-safe low point, as in Varsity Blues, it's a kick to see "American Pie" bitch-slap those guardians of good taste who would suck the vulgar life out of movies. Of course, vulgarity alone is no guarantee of success; otherwise Mary ripoffs like David Spade's Lost and Found wouldn't be such pathetic losers. It's having the nerve to dare and the style to land the jokes that counts.
Paul Weitz, who never directed before; Chris Weitz — his brother — who never produced before; and Adam Herz, who never wrote a screenplay before, have cooked up two hilarious hours of impure pow. And thanks to the Weitz brothers, who collaborated on the screenplay for "Antz," something more: an unexpectedly endearing take on unhip adolescence that gives you a rooting interest in the characters. To write off American Pie as jerk-off jokes for jerk offs is to miss the rare blend of humor and humanism that distinguishes the work of these showbiz siblings — dad is fashion designer John Weitz, mom is Oscar-nominated actress Susan Kohner ("Imitation of Life") and granddad Paul Kohner was a top Hollywood agent. Paul and Chris wanted to share a directing credit on American Pie, but the Directors Guild denied the request, and Paul was given solo billing. No matter. Count on the Weitz brothers to stir things up in the rebel tradition of the Coens, Farrellys and Wachowskis. On them, gross looks good.