American Pie 6: Beta House
I suppose there have been many failings in the American Pie sequels, more so in
the straight-to-vid extensions than in the two theatrical sequels. American Pie
4: Band Camp has absolutely nothing to do with the first trilogy, and American
Pie 5: The Naked Mile has absolutely nothing to do with American Pie 4. The
decision to handle the series that way was not a good one on the part of the
suits, for many reasons, the first and foremost being that first trilogy was so
popular because of our identification with the characters. The next two promptly
dropped that element of instant empathy to introduce two completely new casts
(except for cameos by Eugene Levy).
American Pie 5 was better than American Pie 4 in that regard. Although it did
not connect to its predecessor, it did establish at least a tentative connection
to the characters in the theatrical trilogy. It introduced two new Stifler
cousins, one very much like the original Stifler, the other the ... er ... white
sheep of the family, the shy nice guy who is required in every coming-of-age
comedy. American Pie 6 has the good sense to build on the new Stifler characters
and to bring Levy back as a major character rather than to stick his face in for
a cameo. In essence, American Pie 5 and 6 are the first two parts of a second
trilogy, while American Pie 4 is stranded on its own, with no connection either
to its predecessors or its successors.
I thought that American Pie 5: The Naked Mile was a fairly entertaining movie
because it combined some raunchy antics and nudity with a fairly good little
coming-of-age story that had a tidy and spectacular ending which carried the
romantic formula beyond the quotidian and reached for a bit of icon-building in
the manner of The Graduate or Jerry Maguire. It didn't reach those heights, but
at least it made the effort.
The weakness of American Pie 6 is that the romantic stories (yes, plural - there
are two this time), while sweet enough, aren't interesting at all, and they
basically just end with kisses in the pool. In general, the scriptwriter ran out
of steam at the end, and the film just sort of drifts off into the credits at
some random anticlimactic time. Meh.
The strength of American Pie 6 is the raunch. The nudity comes on the screen
just about non-stop and the bodily fluids never stop being expelled from any and
all orifices. I suppose some people don't consider raunch a positive element,
but if you do like lots of breasts and gross-outs in your comedy, this is
probably the rowdiest, most ribald, grossest film I've seen this year. It's not
all that funny, but it is consistently naughty. There's about as much nudity as
in American Pie 5: The Naked Mile, and there may be even more drunken ribaldry.
And that's a lot.
In the previous film our heroes were high school seniors checking out the
college action. They must have liked it, because this time our heroes are
freshmen in the same college, trying to pledge the legendary Beta House. The
Betas are the party animals, the Delta House for a new century. The Betas have
an enemy who seeks to halt its drunken antics and shut it down completely. Sound
familiar? No, it's not Dean Wormer. In fact, there is no sign of any faculty or
administration in this college. Their enemy is the kingpin of the snob
fraternity. He's the rich guy in a suit, just as Greg Marmalard was in Animal
House, but since this is the new millennium, the rich boys are all sons of
computer geniuses and dot.com millionaires, so they are all nerds! Life has come
full circle since the seventies, when the college movie nerds were the
underdogs. Now they rule the roost. They even get the hottest chicks.
The bitter rivalry between the Beta Frat and the Geek Frat finally comes down to
the Greek Olympics, which they play for each other's charters and domiciles,
kind of a "loser leave town" match. The competitions include drinking beer,
removing bras, and holding off on ejaculation as long as possible while being
sexually taunted by the girlfriends or ringers provided by the other team.
Another event is a riff on The Deer Hunter, a Russian Roulette game in which the
two participants mimic the characters in the famous Cimino movie, and take the
competition just as seriously as they did in the original. The difference is
that instead of firing bullets into their temples, they are firing horse semen
down their throats.
On that note, I think you probably have the general idea of the film, so let's
get to the nudity. Here is just about
all of it in a zipped file with 10 clips. Neither of the two female stars
got naked, so the girls in the clips are all minor players or extras except for
the fat chick "riding the white whale," who is Christine Barger. I should have
been able to identify the sex addict chick, but I couldn't figure it out from
the credits. (Stifler goes to sexaholics anonymous to pick up chicks, but ends
up regretting it. He has to sneak out after fucking her three times, and the
designated house animal has to finish her off when he stumbles in inadvertantly.)
American Pie 6 comes to DVD at Christmastime.
Ungodly is a new take on the serial killer genre. Wes Bentley stars, playing a
character so similar to the one he played in American Beauty that it seems like
the same guy some years later, fallen upon hard times. As in American Beauty, he
walks around with a camera all the time, filming everything while he looks for
the big project.
He gets the big project, all right. He accidentally films a serial murder in the
act, and identifies the man to boot. Does he go to the police? No. Instead he
figures that the maniac will make the perfect subject for the documentary that
will elevate him to the top of that field. He thinks even Ken Burns and Michael
Moore will have to step aside and concede him to be the master of the genre when
he unveils his documentary about a serial killer. Bentley arranges a meeting
with the killer, and the two men form an uneasy pact in which the madman agrees
to be interviewed on camera in return for Bentley's promise that his identity
will be kept a secret until he is caught or killed.
That idea is not completely original. The script was probably inspired by a
Belgian cult film called C'est arrivé près de chez vous," in that the filmmaker
is deceived and manipulated by the serial killer in both films, causing the film
to be controlled by its subject. In both projects, the filmmakers are amoral and
are gradually sucked into more criminal liability of their own. That isn't the
only thing that lacks originality in Ungodly. The killer has the usual
flashbacks to extreme child abuse by his dead mother.
But but the script only starts with those familiar elements, and eventually uses
the premise to develop both unique characters and a surprisingly suspenseful and
complex. Because of his own miserable childhood, it turns out that the killer
has a special soft place in his heart for children. He works with orphaned kids,
dying kids, sick kids, and neighbor kids, and in each case his philanthropy is
genuine and his contribution is worthwhile. Some people in his world think he is
a saint. But when it comes to grown women, he is a completely different person.
Basically he's the Will Rogers of murder. He never met a women he didn't like -
to kill. His formative years made him both a generous, kind man and a monster,
depending on whom he interacts with. In fact, since he at least has some
positives, and since we can understand what made him what he is, we can conclude
that he is probably a much better man in some ways than the photographer, who
not only allows the maniac to commit more murders, but is also a junkie and an
alcoholic, and may even be capable of worse things to come. (Just how far he
will go is part of the film's hook.)
The script devotes a lot of energy to developing both of the main characters.
They are both interested in philosophy, both cerebral men, and those elements
lead to some interesting dialogue about some pretty heavy topics. ("I wish God
would strike me down," says the maniac, "then at last I could believe He exists
and is just.") In addition to deep characterization, the script also has some
surprising plot twists. The two men obviously cannot trust one another, so each
engages in various power strategies and cat-and-mouse games to gain control over
the other. Underlying all of that is the filmmaker's well grounded fear that he,
too, could be the next victim if the killer considers him too great a threat.
All of those elements would have been enough for a sufficiently juicy and full
plot with plenty of suspense, but the film also layers in quite a shocking and
inventive surprise involving the killer's dead mother.
Of course the film is a relentless downer. It's virtually a two character play,
and both of the characters, while interesting, are utterly detestable and
amoral. The scenes often degenerate into loud chaos and brutal violence
supported by cacophonous background sounds, making the film an extremely intense
and unpleasant experience. Even the film's greatest strength, the depth of its
portrayals, is a source of unpleasantness. After all, just how deep into the
mind of a serial killer would you like to be? And as depressing as the main body
of the film is, the ending makes the rest of the film seem like The Sound of
All of that notwithstanding, in my opinion it's quite an excellent film. In
fact, I found this film to be more engrossing than Mr. Brooks, the
similarly-themed film with Dane Cook and Kevin Costner, and by that comparison I
do not mean to disparage Mr. Brooks, which impressed me. It's just that this
film is deeper, more intense, and better acted. My biggest surprise of 2007 is
Mark Borkowski, who not only co-wrote the solid and interesting script, but
turned in a powerful performance as the killer. Although Borkowski has virtually
no experience as an actor, if you heard this film in the next room you would be
absolutely convinced that you were listening to a forgotten Harvey Keitel movie.
There would be no doubt in your mind. Borkowski doesn't look much like Keitel,
but he sounds just like him, moves like him, and interprets lines so similarly
that his performance seems like the work of a brilliant Keitel impersonator.
Although Borkowski seems to be in his forties, I saw nothing in his exiguous
IMDB entry to indicate that he was capable of this level of either acting or
writing. He has written one 28-minute short, and has one acting credit, having
starring in an obscure film seven years ago. To be fair, one IMDb reviewer said
he was brilliant in that film, and I can believe it, but I have no idea what
else he's done with his life in all these years.
But he surely did well here.
Add this to the ever-growing list of good films that I would rather not have