"All you need is scented candles, massage oil, and Barry White. Write that down. Look at me. No cock pump.”
“No cock pump. Barry White.”
“No cock pump. Barry White.”
Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is gearing up for his seventh spring semester at Coolidge College, and he’s in search of a new personal assistance. After interviewing many not-so-fine candidates, he eventually settles on Taj (Kal Penn), an Indian foreign exchange student who has come to Coolidge to learn the art of muff-diving. As the semester wears on, the two have to concoct a scheme to pay for Van’s tuition after his dad (Tim Matheson) cuts him off. They also develop a rivalry with a fraternity whose leader (Daniel Cosgrove) has it out for Van after the party animal catches his girlfriend’s (Tara Reid) attention. She’s a campus reporter charged with the task of figuring out who Van Wilder really is…that is, if he can figure it out himself!
I saw Van Wilder back when it hit DVD around 2003, and exactly two memories stuck with me over the years. One involved dog semen, while the other featured an explosive bout of diarrhea. As it turns out, those two scenes are just about the only thing the movie has to offer, as it’s a rather dull affair otherwise. Though Reynolds is a likeable enough lead, he’s not really given enough to do; he’s cool, confident, and all that, but he’s often undercut by Reid’s nagging, buzz-killing presence. Their budding relationship is the film’s main plot thread, and it’d be serviceable enough (most of these movies have such a plot) if it were surrounded by some funny debauchery in the meantime. Instead, there are precious few laughs parceled out here and there (the oversized nuts of Van’s mutt being a particularly memorable sight gag that's indicative of how it panders to the lowest of brows).
On paper, it feels like you’d look back on this film and marvel at the great cast; in addition to Reynolds and Reid, you have Kal Penn, who is actually pretty awesome and acts like a more over-sexed version of Fez from That 70’s Show. One of his sexual misadventures serves as the other major highlight, and I feel like his story just gets lost among all of the obnoxious characters and humdrum events. Had the flick been primarily about Van helping Taj pop his cherry, there might have been something there. Van Wilder also manages to somehow waste not one, but two 80s teen movie icons in Paul Gleason and Curtis Armstrong. The former is a hard-ass professor who has been dismayed at Van’s apathy, while the latter is a campus traffic cop; the final product feels like each guy was on the set for one day, as neither has much consequence to the narrative. I hardly fault the idea behind these two popping up (they’re rather inspired glorified cameos in theory), but one wishes they had something to do. They even manage to botch Tim Matheson's presence; he was, of course, one of the bigger party animals in Animal House.
Van Wilder seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity for National Lampoon to shake off their doldrums; it would have been an appropriate return to form, too, as their first cinematic success followed the exploits of another seven year senior (John Belushi in Animal House). But the “Animal House of the 21st century” this ain’t, no matter how much it wants to be. A shining example of a good premise and decent characters gone to waste, Van Wilder does at least remain easily watchable due to its high production values, but it fails to generate consistent laughs outside of its scatological gags. I’m actually more interested in seeing Penn take center stage in the direct-to-video sequel The Rise of Taj. Any guy who will get set on fire while trying to lose his virginity should raise a lot of hell when he becomes the big man on campus. (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: