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National Lampoon's Van Wilder

  Van Wilder
Ryan Reynolds looks for acting inspiration from a bulldog.

© 2002, Artisan
All Rights Reserved

There's a right way you can do a scene featuring a man defecating in a waste basket, and there's a wrong way. "Van Wilder" (IMDb listing) does it the wrong way, using every last sound effect on the board, and thrusting the camera in the actor's face so closely, he practically fogs up the lens with his breath. It's rather indicative of the entire movie, as it's violently in your face for every last minute of the disturbingly long 90-minute running time.

Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is a rich kid working on his 7th year at college. Loving the lifestyle, but taking time out of his busy day to tutor kids on the fine art of partying, Van sees no end to his collegiate career. That is, until his father (Tim Matheson, who must owe favors to National Lampoon), decides to cut off Van's tuition payments. Van, broke and short of the credits needed to graduate, decides to give it the college try and attempts to get a diploma. And with the help of a perky college newspaper reporter (Tara Reid, "American Pie"), Van can also deal with the evil DIK fraternity (get it?), who would like nothing more than to see Van get kicked out of school.

Being kind, the Motion Picture Association of America has rated "Van Wilder" R for, among many other reasons, having "gross humor." I guess the humor in the film could be considered gross, if defecation, animal semen and mistaking erection pumps for bongs are too much for you. Either the filmmakers behind "Van Wilder" appear to think this type of material is hilarious enough to carry a feature, or Walt Becker was too afraid to try anything new with his second directing gig, and just went with safe gag-reflex jokes to appease the mallrats. It's laziness, but most offensively, it's laziness without mercy.

Well, mission accomplished, Mr. Becker. You've made the ultimate grossout picture. Too bad the market's full of them. What would've separated "Van Wilder" from the rest of the pack is a little thing called a good script. A screenplay that wanted more for itself, to use the college atmosphere to have some bawdy fun, but opt for humor over horror at the end of the day. Who knows if National Lampoon even tried to make "Van Wilder" anything more than a "two for 99 cents" rental, and frankly, who really cares about the National Lampoon? They've been off the cultural radar for so long that I don't remember a time when the brand name meant something. I'll give them credit though, to attach your name to a film that has such a fixation with the rectum is a ballsy choice.

So what does work in "Van Wilder?" Well, Van himself, Ryan Reynolds. Known for his role on the ABC sitcom "Two Guys And A Girl," Reynolds is making his lead debut here in "Van Wilder," and he barely escapes Becker's lethal touch. A gifted comic enunciator, Reynolds's quirky delivery goes a long way to wringing laughs out of this dead air comedy. At first, it's tough to know just what is going on in the actor's head, as his articulation is very unique. Soon enough, once you can mime the rhythms in your own head, you can see what Reynolds is going for, thus opening the doors to enjoy his performance. He is the only one in the cast who's willing to work for a laugh, and in this film, his witty one-liners are the burst of oxygen needed to tolerate the rest of this dreadful picture.

Of course, by the end, the film begs the audience to like these characters. Having just been visually insulted by such nonsense for 90 minutes, I'm truly offended that the film would ask the crowd to take such a leap. Nothing's been earned up until this point, so why turn this frat-boy home video into a sympathetic yarn about achieving your dreams? It's pathetic, but not nearly as pathetic as using dog semen as a punchline.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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