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The naughty confessions of "American Pie"

By Ray Pride

JULY 12, 1999:  Straightforward teensploitation, lazily touted by some journalists as a millennial "Porky's," "American Pie" is actually a canny piece of down-and-dirty entertainment for the post-"Jerry Springer" generation.

And, schizophrenically enough, there are many moments where it's the smartest teenage comedy since "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." It starts with a bet made by a quartet of teenagers (Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas) to "get laid" by the end of the school year. The complications that follow suggest that high school is a place completely without privacy, with everyone learning their lessons in a public stew of mortification. As directed by the brothers who wrote "Antz" (Paul Weitz takes credit; Chris Weitz takes producer credit) and written by first-timer Adam Herz, "American Pie" is deeply vulgar yet filled with witty dips and turns, as well as much straight-on profanity and slang.

It's also the first over-the-top, gross-out-gag movie after "There's Something About Mary" that seems to understand that that movie worked for audiences because of likable characters. Most of the jokes are honorably structured - if it weren't for the charisma of the performers, you might be counting the writer's index cards in your head. Everyone goes through a trial by humiliation in "American Pie," but in the end, the story winds up on the side of the power of women and true love. Shrewd or hypocritical? (That question occurs after an ultra-topical one: Which came first? The gross-out comedy or the semen gag?)

The virginal randiness is intensified by the casting of actors who are the age of their characters, chosen for their sincerity and charm. Eighteen-year-old Tara Reid, Lebowski's sexpot wife in "The Big Lebowski," understood the script from the start. "When I read it, I thought it had the humor, but the difference between this movie and 'Something about Mary' is that the humor here is real. It wasn't like, you get cum in your hair and it sticks straight up, y'know? It's stuff that you really go through. That's what gives it its big laughs. You go through puberty, you learn about yourself, asking about sex. I also thought the girls were the ones in control, they're the ones who decide we're gonna have sex or not. We weren't like the little 'ooh-ooh' girls in almost every other movie."

Thomas Ian Nicholas, 18, one of the four pals, almost didn't make the movie because of his Christian beliefs. "The raunchiness was a turnoff when I read it. I read the first [extremely vulgar] scene, I put the script down and canceled my audition. But once I read the whole script, and I saw the things going on, [I could say] yeah, it's raunchy, but those are things I was involved in in my past that kids are curious about now. That's why it's rated R. It should stand for 'Real' with this movie. The film deals with relationships and there's a balance of heart with the raunchiness. People can take lessons away from films and that's one my main reasons for doing movies. I want to make sure that you see characters learning. [The four] place a lot of importance on sex, then they learn there are more things. My character loses his relationship because he's concentrating on the wrong stuff."

Reid agrees that the bawdy laughs are set in a proper story. "Look. We're still really young. I look at my brother and sister who are 16 right now, and the stuff that they do versus what I did at 16 is a huge difference. And we weren't squares! These kids know about sex. If they're gonna learn about it, they might as well learn about it the right way. Not from the movies. But this movie is nicer about it. It shows what guys are like, what girls are like, the realness of it is kinda cool. It's not like they're killing each other, blowing people's heads off and raping them afterwards."

Reid also appreciates Herz and the Weitz' take on high school. "The guys have their little group of friends. But the girls they date? None of us are friends. I love that! You never see that. In high school, most movies, it's the girls and guys, then there's the one main girl, the leader of the bitches with all the bitch girls on the side. I think this movie is open to every kind of crowd. There are no cool kids, there are no nerds. It's fair game."

Alyson Hannigan (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is, at 25, the eldest of the cast. "This movie, compared to regular high school, is a lot tamer." She says, laughing, "If the ratings board went to high school, they wouldn't let anyone under 17 go."

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