WHENEVER WE'RE ASKED TO GO ON A JUNKET for a movie, we have to say yes or no before we actually see it. Hopefully we're going to like it, but we don't always. The publicists insist that we are free to write a negative review, and we've done just that several times for junket stories in these very pages, and we still get invited back. What the studios are buying, when they pay to fly us to L.A. or New York and put us up in the fanciest hotels, is not necessarily a good review -- just a long review. Good or bad, more space in the paper is devoted to the film they're promoting, giving it the status of Important Film of the Week, no matter how slight it really is. They also hope that meeting the people involved in making the film will push us toward the positive. Sure, we all say that the perks don't affect how we write about a film, but I must admit that for American Pie, I was positively swayed by the enthusiasm of the actors (or "the kids," as the producers called them), many of whom were acting in their first feature film.

The story should be familiar to anyone who came of age in the '80s: Four high school seniors make a pact to lose their virginity before they graduate. Jim (Jason Biggs) is a chronic masturbator who must suffer through embarrassing sex education lectures from his dad (Eugene Levy); Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has been dating Vicky (Tara Reid) for a while, but hasn't had sex with her yet; Oz (Chris Klein) is a lacrosse-playing jock who's told he needs to be more sensitive, so he joins the chorus; and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a sophisticate who's not above planting a little gossip in order to improve his chances with the ladies.

The producers know there will be two audiences for this film: those who are nostalgic for teen sex comedies, and high school students living with the pressure of losing their virginity. Director Paul Weitz put it this way: "This is an incredibly naive, sweet movie, I think. At the same time, it's a really raunchy sex comedy."

They are, of course, selling the movie as a post-There's Something about Mary raunchy sex comedy, which may be one reason I was disappointed in it. I thought it was going to be an over-the-top commentary on the '80s sex quest films. Hell, the central image is that of a guy who has sex with a pie. Unfortunately for me, it just lifts the sex quest plot and gives it a couple of '90s twists--for example, the "peephole" scene takes place over the Internet, with a digital camera (where the Eastern European exchange student comes into Jim's room to study, and when left alone, starts to masturbate). Then again, an '80s sex quest film is not such a bad thing, if that's what you're in the mood for.

Actually, some of the updates are quite positive, if not long overdue. Except for the Eastern European exchange student, the women are more than objects of desire, and the desires of women are acknowledged. "This movie's a little like a sexual education film," says Tara Reid, whose boyfriend in the film learns the secrets of the female orgasm. "Women have orgasms too, but no one talks about that. Everyone talks about the guy coming, but when I was little, no one talked about the girl getting an orgasm. You didn't even know what that was. I remember the first time I had an orgasm, I was like, 'Holy shit! What is this?' You know, your legs are going, and you're like, 'Oh my god, this is amazing!' But I didn't know what that was. I think a lot of girls, they don't know what that is because it's not really talked about, which isn't cool. If we can get satisfaction too, then why not? I think it's cool that this movie touches on that. The girls are equal."

Once I started talking to the cast, or to director Paul Weitz, his producing brother Chris (the Directors Guild voted against awarding him co-director status), and writer Adam Herz, all these people who had a great time making the movie, who love each other and the movie itself... well, it's hard to maintain a critical stance. Even if I'm not that enthusiastic about the film, I really hope it does well. As Chris Weitz says, "It was a real labor of love, and I love any occasion when we get to see the kids again. But it also makes me sort of sad, because I know we're not going to go through the first time again. It's strangely analogous to what the kids in the movie are going through."

Though there are plenty of horror stories about movie-making and virginity-losing floating around, sometimes making a first movie, like the first time you have sex, can be an absolute joy--something you're glad to have experienced, and proud to remember.

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