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The Hangover (2009) -vs- American Pie (1999)

The Hangover -vs- American Pie

Rodney Twelftree, Contributing WriterThe Smackdown

Boobs. Booze. Swearing. Got your attention? Sweet. It’s the return of the classic sub-genre, the Beer & Pizza Movie which is enjoying something of a renaissance, given that the esteemed Writers Guild of America has even nominated one for “Best Screenplay” this year. To define our terms here, a Beer & Pizza movie is one you can only really enjoy with a group of mates (Hey! I’m Australian, okay?), some beer, pizza, and a desire to be amused in an “adult” manner. Unapologetically wallowing in gratuitous nudity/swearing/adult themes, and generally politically incorrect, Beer & Pizza Movies are often lowbrow, tasteless cinematic buffoonery dressed up as social satire. Each of our contenders today contains its fair share of the aforementioned unmentionables. Grab a slice of day-old pizza, zip up your trousers, and read on to find out which of our combatants would win in a boozy brawl!

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The Challenger

Blokes want sex. That’s pretty much all there is to it. That’s why Paul Verhoeven stays in business. We’re a pretty simple bunch, us men. Nudity, alcohol, sex, fights (explosions and aliens optional), car chases, and sport — that’s all we need to entertain us. You can have your “Citizen Kane” and your romantic comedy; we’ll keep our “Scarface” and raise you one “Hangover.” Destined to become a Friday Night At The Movies staple for blokes the world over, “The Hangover” is a film about just that: the day (or two) after the night before. It’s a film filled with everything you could want in a Stag Night classic: memory loss, lost teeth, drugs, crazy nudity, hints of bizarre sexual activity, a Holocaust ring, and a wildcat in the bathroom.

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The Defending Champion

By a wide margin, the defining teen-comedy flick of the last twenty years would have to be “American Pie.” Utterly un-PC and way more realistic than any “Police Academy” movie, “American Pie” did for web-cam porn what John Belushi did for zit jokes. Filled with the kind of comedy that would make anybody over fifty quiver with disgust, “American Pie” reinvigorated the void left by the decline of “National Lampoons” and “Porky’s.” The New Wave Gross-Out Film became cool again when Jim, the kinda-geeky lovelorn teen we all aspired to be in high school, decides to secretly film Nadia, the object of his lust, in his bedroom while she changes clothes. Only, she decides to get a little…frisky… with Jim’s magazine collection instead of keeping her clothes on. Silly girl. As you’d imagine, once his friends find out, and the trusty web-cam comes into operation, much hilarity springs forth.

The Scorecard

Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me, but….. I believe it to be one of Gods cruellest tricks to make a man’s sexual peak arrive a lot earlier than a woman’s. The harsh fact is that boys/men often mature sexually before the females of the same age: this tragic natural phenomenon has been attracting film-making creativity since the dawn of post-McCarthyism. In the age of Craigslist, on-line porn and the decline of Western Civilization, it’s good to know there are film-makers around willing to tackle these serious social issues head on. Both our featured films today, however, say a big “screw you” to political correctness, and deliver a steady barrage of cringe-worthy humor and fart jokes in much the same manner as the Charleston delivers sprained ankles.

“American Pie” blasted onto the scene back in 1999, featuring some genuinely classic set-pieces and some now (in)famous pop-culture references; nobody knew what a MILF was prior to “Pie,” but we all do now. Jim Levinson (Jason Biggs) and his school mates vow to lose their virginity by the night of the School Prom. This simple plan is much more difficult to achieve than they first suspect, as bedding modern teenage women is often fraught with danger. “American Pie” has since been ripped off more than arm hairs at a Band-Aid factory, and the franchise has suffered its share of the standard Hollywood degradation in the years since, fostering many sequels of increasingly inferior quality. That said, the original film was a defining moment in the Gross-Out Film genre.

Whereas many films prior had been mere titillation and cheeky, irreverent excuses to do dumb things, “American Pie” managed to inject a level of heart and soul into its superficial parade of beer, burps and sexual tinglings. The boys, our heroes, are inherently nice guys, if a little misguided. The lure of the female is hard to swerve around, and like moths to the proverbial flame, they try as hard as possible to go through with their pact. The good natured-ness of “American Pie” is where the film truly shines: as much as we want our boys to succeed, they need to do it with the correct intentions, not the lusty red-eyed pursuit they initially engage in. Each of the core characters is a perfect teen archetype. Jim, whose goggle-jawed geekiness allows him to be “just good friends” with the female of the species, epitomizes anybody anywhere who had an unrequited (and unrealistic) fantasy on a girl at school. Finch, the anal-retentive sophisticate, represents the man-about-town-fantasy. Kevin, the “long term relationship guy”, is all hung up on his girlfriends unwillingness to “go all the way”, which is perhaps the most common of all archetypes in films like this. Gentle giant Oz, who deviates from lacrosse to Choir to get some action, learns a lesson in gentlemanly behavior when he actually falls for the girl he initially only wants to bed.

“The Hangover,” which flip-sides the “good guys gone bad” narrative in favor of a more brutal, chauvinistic plot, hangs its hat on the understanding of certain social conventions: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, usually after “anything goes”. When three men awake in their lavish Vegas hotel room, to find the groom missing, a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken fluttering about, and a baby in a closet, all tied up with a mysterious bout of amnesia, they must retrace the steps of the previous night to find their lost companion. In what has become an annoying trend in Hollywood, many scriptwriters define “comedy” as any line of dialog that can be “improved” by inserting the F-Bomb, and the more frequent, the better. “The Hangover” suffers from this sad plight quite badly. Neither Brad Cooper, or his fellow co-stars Ed Helms or Zach Galfianakis, have the screen presence to engender any kind of empathy from the audience: Helms’ hen-pecked Stu, who loses a tooth fairly early on in the film, is about as close to a sympathetic character as we get. Throw in a living waxwork representation of Jeffrey Tambor as a curmudgeonly generic Father Of The Groom, and this film has all the class and wit of “Showgirls.” Topping off this eye-wateringly tactless film is a screeching performance from Ken Jeong, as a campy, sneering Asian crime lord, complete with henchmen, in pursuit of some lost casino chips. [Authors side note: the BluRay version of this film has a featurette on Jeong’s character, showing the extended outtakes of the mans “ad-libbed” performances in each take: watching this gives one pause to reflect on the absurdity of ad-libbing dialog in a comedy film if you simply aren’t funny. It’s perhaps the most god-awful thing I’ve ever seen!]

Where the motives of the characters in “American Pie” are understandable, if not entirely forgivable, the characters in “The Hangover” are entirely selfish: inherently unlovable, they give us the loutish, brutish and vulgar we expect from a film inherently involving public drunkenness. The fact that “The Hangover” promises to deliver so much, and doesn’t, is testament to a brazen publicity machine in action: the only nude women you see are in the closing credits, meaning if you came in expecting strippers and nudity (as you would in Vegas), you’ll be disappointed. The general craziness (otherwise marketed as “zaniness”) lacks drive and motivation, lacks subtlety or wit, and lacks credibility. Comedy like this survives on drunken viewers identifying with one (or all) of the characters, and laughing their booze-addled brains out. That doesn’t happen here, unless you’re of the 30+ year old frat-boy persuasion.The fact that Mike Tyson and Carrot Top have cameos speaks volumes.

Nutshell version: “American Pie” has the more engaging characters. As an audience, we find them more appealing than the loud-mouth obnoxiousness I have come to associate with the Seth Rogen style of humor. If “The Hangover” is the state of comedy in Hollywood right now, somebody ought to made a clone of either Chaplin, Keaton, or Peter Sellers.

The Decision

Watching “The Hangover” recently with the wife, I was left with the distinct impression it might have been funnier if I’d seen it with a larger group. The comedy value in this kind of suppressed communal fantasy is reflected in the fact that a large group of people will find this funnier than a solitary purveyor ever would. The subtlety of the script in “The Hangover”…. well, there simply isn’t any. “The Hangover” boasts the sexual ineptitude of “Body Of Evidence” and the comedy level of “Scary Movie.” “American Pie” still holds up today, it’s wry wit and emotional heart layered under the crass outer coating allowing us to forgive the odd bodily fluid joke.

Read Bryce Zabel’s Smackdown, Superbad -vs- American Pie

About Rodney Twelftree 25 Articles
Rodney is Movie Smackdown‘s Man Down Under. He’s a proud Aussie who, unlike that other famous Aussie film guy named after a reptile, does not wear a leather hat, carry a big knife or wander about in the Outback. He lives in Adelaide, South Australia and, with all the time he saves by not wandering in the Outback, he watches movie after movie. Then he writes about them because telling everyone individually what his opinions are would be too time consuming. Rodney spends a great deal of his time justifying why he enjoys Michael Bay movies.

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