The "American Pie" franchise deserves its full slice of credit when it comes to innovation in the sexual humor space; its original, after all, was the movie that introduced the world to the not-so-time-honored tradition of making whoopee with pastries.
But what's the "edgiest" scene (played for laughs) in its latest installment, "American Reunion"? A shot of Jason Biggs' fully exposed member, of course.
Welcome to the most over-used cliche in contemporary R-rated comedies.
The movie industry has a long history with nudity; it started way back in the days of vaudeville and continued on with Russ Meyer and a wave of independent erotic films in the late 1950s and early 1960s before being making its way into more mainstream fare like the 1982 raunchfest "Porky's."
By the end of the 20th century, the theatergoing public had generally become comfortable with -- or at least desensitized to -- seeing a woman go full frontal, but male genitalia on the big screen was still rather taboo, save for the occasioanal drama (see Harvey Keitel in 1993's "The Piano"), until R-rated comedies such as “Eurotrip” and “Borat” started to bring the penis to the multiplex.
The 2006 "Ali G Show" spin-off "Borat" particularly seemed to liberate contemporary comedy producers and directors, who are now more than ever including their actors' junk in their movies. In the last four years we've seen major displays of manhood in films like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (another much-disccused "influencer"), "The Hangover," "Bruno," "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas," "Wanderlust" and now "American Reunion."
I've dubbed this phenomenon the Attack of the Phallus, and it's getting old really quickly.
Let's get one thing straight: I'm not saying a guy can't let it all hang out on the screen. First off, it'd be a double standard. No one's up in arms about the amount of female nudity in movies – though while female nudity is generally portrayed as sensual, male full frontal in these cases is typically portrayed as a comedic device.
And when a script calls for an actor to strip for the sake of its story, a little skin can only enhance its dramatic effect. Alexander McQueen's "Shame" is a case study so intimate and revealing, it would have been a disservice to its narrative not to show Michael Fassbender's character in his most vulnerable state. The very nature of the material is explicit and therefore justifies the excessive nudity. The same can be said of Jason Segel’s full frontal scene in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." By exposing himself to the audience he conveyed his absolute love for his lady, and the action spoke louder than any dialogue could have, especially given the heartbreaking situation in which we find him.
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But that doesn't mean every wang is warranted. Filmmakers, particularly those that work in the comedy genre, have become increasingly reliant on using the penis as a cheap gag, creating awkward and polarizing images that audiences either love or hate. As an unexpected ploy, like the transvestite reveal in "The Hangover Part II," a Johnson can be stomach-turning, side-splitting and universally shocking. That's okay. Unfortunately, there are far more examples of the male form being exploited unnecessarily for simple, crude humor, as in "American Reunion" and "Harold and Kumar 3."
The most vulgar demonstration in recent memory was "Bruno," a movie so blatantly obscene the biggest surprise is that it didn’t get hit with an NC-17 rating. The profuse exhibition of penises in this raunchy romp had a waning effect on its potency as a comedic device, and it was ultimately nothing more than spectacle to hide the fact that there was no substance to the film.
And that's my biggest fear about the future of American comedies … that penises will become the Zack Snyder slow-motion sequence of every studio laffer, employed so repetitively it will just be predictable and sterile. Directors are using them more and more these days because producing a movie with sex and foul language has become the norm. It isn't enough to make headlines or separate their picture from the pack. So they try to get scandalous by presenting the thing that the MPAA hates most.
Thus, I present this plea to all comedy filmmakers: Going full frontal is not only a lot to ask of your cast, it's a lot to ask of your audience. While your average Joe will have a higher tolerance for lowbrow tactics, the prudes aren't the only ones that can be turned off by gratuitous nudity. Use the penis sparingly before its significance is completely diluted. Better yet, come up with a new way to make moviegoers squirm in their seats with coarse comedy. I guarantee you they'll pay to see it.