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Pie love goes all the way

At the beginning of 'American Wedding,' college senior Jim has planned a romantic evening at a nice restaurant so he can pop the question to his longtime girlfriend, Michelle. The mood is right, the tiny velvet jeweler's box is hidden beneath her napkin, and Jim starts to wind up for the pitch.

But since this is the third film in the trilogy that began with 'American Pie,' we know that something horribly embarrassing is about to happen Ñ especially when Jim (Jason Biggs) gets a call on his cell phone from his father telling him that the velvet box is actually empty and Dad (Eugene Levy) is on his way to the restaurant with the engagement ring. When Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) misreads Jim's leading remarks as a request to 'spice up' their relationship and slips under the table, it's all too clear that we're headed for another humiliating moment involving Jim, Jim's dad and Jim's penis.

Yet, predictable as the scene is, it's very, very funny. The beauty of the 'American Pie' films is that they never pretend to be more than vulgar sex farces, yet the level of writing and acting in each movie is so far superior to the premise that they end up being, if not great art, then at least genuinely good comedies. 'Wedding' Ñ in all its crude, tasteless, hilarious glory Ñ is no exception.

Taking center stage this time is Seann William Scott as the crazed, horny Stiffler. Uninvited to the wedding because of his foul mouth and social retardation, he nonetheless forces his way into the situation through sheer manic determination.

When he meets Michelle's sister, Cadence (January Jones), he drapes a sweater around his neck and pretends to be a sensitive yuppie to win her affections (well, not her affections exactly), provoking a competition with his brainier buddy, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) Ñ who can't help but needle Stiffler occasionally over the fact that, yes, he once slept with Stiffler's mom.

Meanwhile, Jim's trying to impress Michelle's parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush), despite finding himself in the middle of typically embarrassing situations involving dogs, cakes, pants Ñ Jim really has an awful lot of trouble with his pants in these films Ñ and a bachelor party that goes hideously awry. Hilarity, as you may well guess, ensues.

Much of the cast of the earlier films is notably absent this time around, with Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth and Mena Suvari all opting out of the nuptials. Thomas Ian Nicholas hangs around doing very little as Kevin (although in most films his being duct-taped to a chair by a dominatrix stripper would be more than a throwaway gag), and even Biggs is reduced to mostly just looking sheepish and annoyed.

The film really belongs to Stiffler, and although one wonders why the gang doesn't just pick up baseball bats and beat the obnoxious bastard to a pulp, Scott's campy overacting is perversely endearing Ñ and a scene in which Stiffler engages in a 'dance-off' in a gay bar against a balletic leather daddy is screamingly funny.

Word is that 'American Wedding' is the final film in the series, which is to the creators' credit. Better to go out while audiences still enjoy the show, rather than overstay the welcome. And in a summer full of dud action flicks and sequels that fizzle, this 'Wedding' is one well worth attending.