The opening scene of a movie is a director's one-time opportunity to burn an indelible image in the audience's consciousness. Take the first moments of Jaws, when a skinny-dipping girl on a moonlight swim is yanked under by a bloodthirsty great white. Or The Godfather's ''I believe in America'' speech, in which a heartbroken Italian immigrant comes to Don Corleone seeking vengeance for his daughter.
It's time to add another glistening jewel to that list. As the new teen sex comedy American Pie kick-starts, a geeky high schooler sits on his bed workin' the gherkin to a scrambled porn channel. That is, until his parents barge in unannounced and catch him red-handed...so to speak.
''Yes, it's a raunchy opening, but at the same time there's an odd sort of honesty to it,'' says Pie's 26-year-old screenwriter Adam Herz, who adds that pathetically pleasuring oneself to indecipherable cable sleaze isn't just something he pulled out of thin air. ''I've had so many people come out of the closet afterward and say, 'Yeah, I've done that.''' You can add Jason Biggs, the 21-year-old actor in that painfully hilarious scene, to the roster of the guilty. ''What guy hasn't turned to channel 99 late at night?'' asks Biggs, seemingly without an ounce of shame. ''I've never been caught, but I've certainly had situations where I've been getting nice with myself, and you can only imagine what it would be like if your parents walked in.''
From this snippet, you may already be wondering if American Pie is an exhilarating blast of frank sexual honesty, or just the next push of the parental-advisory envelope. But regardless of which way you come down, the R-rated teen carnalpalooza could become this summer's most endearing underdog. ''It seems people have taken to us because we're this quirky little smut movie,'' jokes 29-year-old producer Chris Weitz, who shared behind-the-camera duties with his brother Paul, 33. (The Weitzes, who also cowrote Antz, are sons of fashion designer John Weitz and actress Susan Kohner.)
But does an $11 million cheapie about four horny guys gunning to lose their virginity by prom night have any right to be a heavyweight contender in a season teeming with shagadelic superspies, adoption-minded doofuses, and Will Smith mugging in leather chaps? If anything, the unapologetically single-minded romp, which Herz pitched to Universal Pictures as Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy Which Can Be Made for Under $10 Million Which Studio Readers Will Most Likely Hate but I Think You Will Love, feels more at home in the zeitgeist of 1982 that annus mirabilis of such T&A cavalcades as Porky's and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. ''Those movies were the entire impetus for this,'' says Herz.
But what makes American Pie more than just a randy update of Reagan-era teen comedies is its female characters, some of whom are actually fleshed out rather than just treated as flesh. In fact, the girls in the film see right through the guys' libidos and hold out long enough to change their agendas from lust to love. ''It doesn't feel like a guy-fest to me because the women in the movie have control,'' says Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow), who plays a secretly lascivious band geek, ''so it's pretty much a chick flick in my opinion. [Women] may be more hesitant to see it and guys will definitely turn out for the first weekend. But girls like to see guys in their guy form because it helps us to understand what dweebs they are.''