American Pie 2 (15);<BR></BR> A Bench in the Park (nc); <BR></BR> South West 9 (18); <BR></BR>Peaches (15)

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The Independent Culture

Once the original grossed $150 million at the box office, another slice of American Pie became unavoidable, and while certainly not the worst sequel of the year – that's a lock for Scary Movie 2 – it's a shoddy and dispiriting piece of work. For all its gross-out slapstick, the first movie actually endeared itself through the ensemble playing of its young cast and the neat twist in Adam Herz's screenplay of making the blokes hapless, insecure and ready to be taught a lesson by the girls they yearn for.

This time around, the ensemble has been diluted and the brunt of the comedy shifted onto Jim (Jason Biggs), the pastry-fancier of the original, and gung-ho jock Stifler (newly famous Seann William Scott). With their first year of college completed, Jim and his crew head off to a lakeside rental for the summer and plan their various campaigns to get laid. Unfortunately Adam Herz hasn't seen the need to do anything but play dismal variations on the original's smutty farce, with Biggs again suffering most of the indignities: instead of putting his pecker in the apple pie, Jim this time contrives to superglue it to his hand, and later gets a trumpet rammed up his bunghole for good measure. Stifler meanwhile gurglingly mistakes urine for champagne, ringing elegant changes on the first film's semen-for-beer gag.

I wish I could report this is fun, but it ain't. Whatever charm the original possessed has all but fled. The tender-hearted romance between Chris Klein and Mena Suvari has been reduced to a limp phone-sex routine, while spiky Natasha Lyonne is unforgivably overlooked. True, Eugene Levy nicely reprises his role as Jim's all-too-understanding father, though the idea of Biggs still requiring sexual instruction after a year at college is a bit ridiculous – not even Woody Allen was this uptight. AP2 may pack them in at the multiplexes, but I fancy they won't find this second helping quite so tasty.

Agusti Vila's debut A Bench in the Park has a low-key talkiness that pays undisguised tribute to Eric Rohmer. Beginning at the scene of a couple breaking up – the sullen parcelling out of the CD collection, to be precise – it proceeds to examine a lonely guy's idiosyncratic quest for romance. Juan (Alex Brendemuhl) decides that only a chance encounter will suit his needs, and picks two places, a park bench and a café table, to station himself at the same time each day. "I want someone to find me," he says, and his perseverance pays off when he meets Alicia (Victoria Freire, below) at the first rendez-vous and Ana (Monica Lopez) at the second. This double-stroke of good fortune will strike singletons everywhere as barely believable, though this may be to underestimate Barcelona's dating scene – perhaps good-looking strangers are forever striking up conversations with one another. In any case I rather enjoyed the dinner-table chat about the merits of living alone, and the concomitant tendency to talk to oneself. The musing tone is as dry and agreeable as a fino sherry, even if its finish is a little disappointing.

I have a feeling that the rave movie South West 9 carries "a message", though I couldn't rightly say what it might be, apart from: careful with that acid. Writer-director Richard Parry, making his first move from documentary to feature, offers to take us "through the windscreen of the new millennium", though to the untrained eye it looks more like Brixton, SW9. A crowded plot draws together a stolen briefcase, a calamitous acid trip, a gun-running conspiracy and the dark doings of a local crack den, by the end of which one feels energy has massively outstripped coherence and plausibility.

The week's other "yoof" film is a very sorry affair. That the screenplay of Nick Grosso's Peaches was initially rejected by "everyone in London" will not be a puzzle to anyone who sits through its tiresome tale of blokes on the pull. While his mates are in pursuit of jobs and girlfriends, Frank (Matthew Rhys) isn't sure that he wants either, and loafs around the pubs and clubs of Kentish Town in search of inspiration. I think he's meant to be a loveable loser, as opposed to a whiny, shiftless berk. The likely-lad banter about girls is perhaps an attempt to emulate the slick West Coast patter of Swingers, but unfortunately Grosso's writing lacks vital prerequisites such as wit, pace and an ear for language. It manages, for all that, to sound extremely pleased with itself.

AQ

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