Poor John Waters. If the Tony Award-winning musical of Waters' film "Hairspray" weren't proof enough that the onetime dean of depravity -- our king of kitsch and sultan of scatology -- has outlived his outrageousness, here comes "American Wedding."
The grossest, least funny -- and, here's hoping, the last -- installment in the "American Pie" series, the new movie offers further proof that the mainstream has so thoroughly appropriated Waters' bad taste that the sight of a guy eating dog feces no longer inspires shock -- just bookings at cineplexes across the country.
The newest addition to the gross-out comedy franchise continues the adventures of characters introduced in "American Pie" and embellished on in its sequel, "American Pie 2," and who have grown older as the material has grown progressively more puerile. Once again the script is by Adam Herz, who must be dizzy from running on fumes, while the director -- or, to judge by his creative commitment, the guy who told the crew to fire up the machinery -- is Jesse Dylan (son of Bob, brother to Jakob). As before, the usual suspects are Jim (Jason Biggs), who as a hormonally frenzied teenager once committed sexual congress with a fresh-baked pie; his flutist extraordinaire girlfriend, Michelle (an underused Alyson Hannigan); his sidekick buddies (Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas); and his admirably patient parents (Eugene Levy, Molly Cheek).
The comedy, such as it is, revolves around Jim and Michelle's impending wedding and all the minor comedies and tragedies that accompany such events, including the usual crises over the dress, cake and flowers. Michelle's parents (Deborah Rush, Fred Willard) are along for the ride this time, as is Michelle's sister, Cadence (January Jones), who's mainly around to give her admirer and Jim's trash-talking friend and foe, Stifler (Seann William Scott), a reason to hog the screen. This isn't necessarily bad news, because Scott, the one real breakout actor from the "Pie" trilogy, shares Jim Carrey's ability -- and the older actor's slightly helter-skelter good looks -- to pivot from humorously grotesque to freakily scary with a single maniacal smile.
It's a talent that proves of particular value in "American Wedding," because Scott's energy helps keep the movie going during its sluggish moments and animates its few bright spots, including a pleasurably dumb showdown on the dance floor of a gay bar. Set to a throbbing sonic medley of old radio hits -- Bananarama, the Eurythmics, Duran Duran -- Stifler and a beefy bar patron (Eric Allen Kramer) playfully act out all the sexual anxiety that bubbles beneath the surface of movies where even the straight guys only have eyes for one another. Their interaction is so endearing, at once goofy and sweet, and so lacking in the pro forma homophobia found in many mainstream movies, that it's hard not to feel sucker punched by the subsequent dog-waste consumption scene. Here, no laugh goes unpunished.
Disposable as toilet paper, "American Wedding" raises the question of how far mainstream the gross-out comedy can go. With each of their comedies the Farrelly brothers have raised the bar of the "blech" factor, while movies like "Jackass" have pushed the limits of permissible -- meaning MPAA-sanctioned -- imagery. Back in the 1970s, Waters churned out a series of repugnantly funny comedies about social outcasts sticking it to bourgeois norms, which, however attenuated, invested his work with a radical dimension. These days, most gross-out movie comedies revolve around middle-class kids acting out a seemingly endless series of juvenile fantasies, many involving bodily functions. They're old enough to marry, sure, but what does it mean that all these kids still aren't potty-trained?
MPAA rating: R, for sexual content, language and crude humor
Times guidelines: Extremely crude adult language, human consumption of dog feces
Jason Biggs...Jim Levenstein
Seann William Scott...Steve Stifler
Alyson Hannigan...Michelle Flaherty
Eddie Kaye Thomas...Paul Finch
Thomas Ian Nicholas...Kevin Myers
Universal Pictures presents a Zide/Perry--Liveplanet Production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Jesse Dylan. Writer Adam Herz. Producers Warren Zide, Craig Perry, Chris Moore, Adam Herz, Chris Bender. Based on characters created by Adam Herz. Director of photography Lloyd Ahern. Production designer Clayton Hartley. Editor Stuart Pappe. Music Christophe Beck. Costume designer Pamela Withers Chilton. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
In general release.