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Published: Thursday, 7/12/2012

New releases beg the question: When do movie franchises wear out?

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

A couple of video releases should have customers asking once again when an old idea has reached the point of overuse.

American Reunion (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD combo) and The Three Stooges (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo) both revisited seemingly reliable and beloved ideas. American Reunion, released on Tuesday, was the fourth film in that franchise. The Three Stooges, coming July 17, revisited characters who made movie audiences laugh starting in the 1930s, were discovered by new generations via TV in the '50s and beyond, and still get TV replays.

Neither movie did much at the U.S. box office. In fact, American Reunion was by far the least lucrative of the American Pie films in the United States, according to Box Office Mojo, but made big money from overseas fans. But of the two, The Three Stooges works better as a movie, an amusingly light revisiting of classic slapstick, while American Reunion, for all its deliberate raunchiness, seemed as tired and played-out as some of its actors looked.

American Reunion, as the title suggests, brought together the characters and actors from the previous American Pie films for their 10th high school reunion. Some are married, though not necessarily happy. Some carry old torches. Their business lives are also a mixed bag. But they all still want to have joy in life -- and their pursuit of that joy leads down to plenty of vulgarity and nudity; the release includes an unrated version as well as the original R-rated theatrical take, but the R-rated version is thoroughly raw too.

DVD SNIPPETS: Raconteurs 'Live at Montreaux'

But the problem with American Reunion is not the nature of the content -- this is an American Pie sequel, after all -- as much as that it's not funny, it drags badly, and the cast members often look as if they wished they were somewhere else. Of course, for most of them, this movie series is as good as their careers ever got. And in American Reunion that's not good at all.

Extras on DVD and Blu-ray include deleted scenes, bloopers, interviews with the cast, and commentary by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who together wrote and directed the movie. The Blu-ray adds extended scenes, alternate takes, comments by cast members and more.

As for Stooges, my review when the movie was in theaters warned that it is about 90 minutes of brutal slapstick, terrible puns, and a barely acknowledged plot. There are slaps, eye pokes, falls from tall buildings, and objects landing on people. There are fake-seeming sound effects, bloodless maiming and -- in a clear concession to modern taste -- a major joke involving farting. But I also said that I laughed. Not as hard as when I first saw the old Three Stooges shorts on TV as a child. But laugh I did.

The movie comes from brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have celebrated Stooge-like humor before in movies like Dumb and Dumber. Sean Hayes plays Larry, Will Sasso is Curly, and Chris Diamantopoulos is Moe, and they do a fine job of it; it is evident that a lot of work was done on their timing, one of the hallmarks of the original Stooges' mayhem. The major drawback to the movie is the sustaining of a feature-length plot; the Stooges work better in smaller doses. But there are still plenty of funny moments -- and a great supporting turn by Larry David as a nun.

The DVD includes deleted scenes and a Stooges mash-up. The Blu-ray also has pieces on the sound effects, casting, and other topics.

By the way, the original Stooges are also available on DVD, most recently in an enormous Ultimate Collection (Sony, $95.99), which has 190 Stooges shorts, the features Rockin' in the Rockies, and Have Rocket, Will Travel, and more.

On the TV side, Syfy series Warehouse 13 begins its fourth season on July 23 and the third season came to DVD on Tuesday (Universal, 13 episodes, $49.98). Joanne Kelly and Eddie McClintock star as investigators tracking down artifacts with supernatural powers, and the third season was the best to date: often funny, very dramatic, and quite touching in scenes of loss and sacrifice.

The 13 episodes include the season's chronologically ordered narrative and the stand-alone Christmas-season telecast Secret Santa. Among the extras are webisodes, audio commentary on three episodes, deleted scenes, bloopers and interviews with guest stars such as Anthony Michael Hall, Lindsay Wagner, and an Kate Mulgrew.

Finally: With the recent passing of Andy Griffith, you may want to look for his work on video. His career was long and varied, with its misfires (among them the movie Play the Game). But plenty is worth your time.

The Andy Griffith Show is on DVD in individual-season sets and a complete-series box; there is also a Best of Mayberry set of selected episodes. Seven of his nine seasons of his Matlock series are available so far. You should definitely see A Face in the Crowd, available on DVD, with one of Griffith's best performances; he plays a man who becomes a beloved TV personality but off-camera is monstrous. No Time for Sergeants -- in which Griffith starred on live TV, stage and the movies -- has its movie version on DVD; with some hunting you may be able to find his TV performance on VHS.



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