Back around 1995, it seemed that every made-for-cable or straight-to-vid
film was a Pulp Fiction wannabee. In the new millennium, however, the
choice to clone seems to be American Pie. A diverse group of high school
seniors forms the basis of these films, and foreign exchange students
often play a prominent role. There's the jock who is more complex than he
seems; the intellectual stoner; the shy guy who can't make the big move on
the girl of his dreams; the compulsive seducer who really just needs a
woman to understand him.
American Pie made good use of those archetypes and avoided turning them
into stereotypes. We learned a lot about all the characters, and they
seemed like real people. Stifler provided comic relief, Eugene Levy
provided a sane, credible, but amusing adult presence, and "Nadia"
provided the killer bod.
For some reason or another, that success has proved difficult to copy,
and Foreign Exchange provides a lesson in how not to do it:
1. The main characters are not sufficiently developed. The "shy guy" is
the only one we really get to know, and his romance with the girl of his
dreams has nary a new twist. The only humor, if one may call it that, in
his storyline is that the French exchange student in his home is trying to
sabotage his efforts to woo his princess.
2. Shy guy's story was the only one that seemed to have a beginning,
middle and end. The other sub-plots seem to have huge gaps in their
development. Sometimes things seems to develop too quickly, and at other
times it just seems as if crucial scenes and conversations are missing.
Sometimes the main characters interact with other characters as if we are
supposed to recognize the others, but we do not. Sometimes relationships
simply pass from Stage 1 to Stage 4 without any explanation of how they
could have taken such dramatic turns - turns which could not have been
anticipated from the previous scenes actually portrayed.
3. Some of the minor characters seem to have no purpose at all. (a) The
"Russian Dude" gets lots of screen time, but we don't learn a thing about
him and he's not funny. He doesn't even seem Russian. WTF? (b) The
school principal (Stifler's mom) has a lackey standing behind her in all scenes.
Who is that guy and why is he there? ... etc.
4. Comic set-ups are wasted or dropped. Sometimes they seem to come out
of nowhere as if the writers thought of something funny but unrelated to
this plot, then tried to shoehorn it into this film anyway.
5. The only nudity comes from anonymous extras with a line or two (in
one case, with no lines at all, as a fantasy woman pictured while the shy
6. Curtis Armstrong gets the Eugene Levy duties as the shy guy's
father, the one adult who can actually relate to the kids. In this case,
he plays the parent who is hipper and more of a renegade than the kids,
thus leapfrogging the character development of "Jim's dad" all the way to
American Pie 6 without allowing the character to demonstrate any core
humanity before taking him off on discussions of the merits of doing a
Dirty Sanchez on the first date. Curtis could probably do that role in his
sleep and make us enjoy it, but the writer didn't really know how to make
use of Booger's endearing douchiness, and his character here actually
seems totally creepy.
In short, Foreign Exchange is the kind of formulaic quickie that people
churn out for the bucks, and not because they really want to tell a story.
Many of the kids did decent jobs with their characters, while Booger and
Stifler's mom provided genre credibility, but the whole thing just kind of
meanders around with very few jokes, no worthwhile comic set pieces, no
memorable moments, and no original ideas at all. This kind of movie is my
sort of guilty pleasure film, so I can sit through almost anything in this
genre, but I just wouldn't recommend this to anyone else. In fact, you
could probably write a better coming-of-age comedy in the time it would
take you to acquire this one and watch it.