National Lampoon’s Van Wilder

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“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” belongs to the genre of movies in which someone ingests something not meant to be ingested, usually a bodily fluid of some kind. (In this case, I will tell you only that it came from a dog.)

It is also the kind of movie in which the bad guy winds up with severe gastro-intestinal problems and has to relieve himself in an office wastebasket — an idea that I find funny on paper, and even when reflecting upon it, but not when I was forced to watch it happen on the silver screen in brilliant color and Dolby sound.

The attachment of “National Lampoon’s” to the title suggests this might be a parody of some kind, as was the case with the last several movies with that moniker. But “Van Wilder” is not exaggerated enough to be a parody of gross-out flicks, college flicks, or even flicks in general. It merely indulges in the worst elements of all of them. Just as “Not Another Teen Movie” was so clueless in its parodies that it became just another teen movie, “Van Wilder” is just a pale, crude imitation of movies like “Animal House” (the first “National Lampoon” movie, and one of the few not to do the name a disservice).

Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) has been at Coolidge College for seven years and has no intention of graduating. He likes it there, and he is the biggest of the big men on campus, giving advice to freshmen, pumping up the basketball team, helping sick students and only very, very occasionally going to class. His father (Tim Matheson) finally cuts him off, leaving Van to figure out his own way to raise enough money to stay in school.

Meanwhile, an ambitious journalism student named Gwen (Tara Reid) has been assigned to do a profile on the enigmatic Van Wilder, much to the dismay of her uptight pre-med boyfriend Richard (Daniel Cosgrove). Somewhere between Gwen and Richard’s seriousness and Van’s carefree attitude there is probably a happy medium, but darned if the movie is going to try very hard to find it.

Ryan Reynolds, who starred in TV’s “Two Guys and a Girl,” which I never saw, would appear to have talent. He’s definitely charismatic, and if he can stop delivering every line like he thinks he’s Jim Carrey, not to mention get some better material, he could be good. Tara Reid, meanwhile, gets another “couldn’t be less believable as …” notch on her belt, this time for her role as a hard-nosed investigative journalist, which she couldn’t be less believable as.

Van appears naked in this movie three different times, at least one of which is for absolutely no reason other than to be random. The movie specializes in that kind of non-sequitur, but rarely does it succeed in creating laughs. The hearing-impaired basketball coach saying, “I have never been glad I was deaf until now, so I can’t hear them booing!” made me laugh, because physical handicaps are among the few remaining taboos in comedy. But I thought better of it later: “Van Wilder” wasn’t being brave; it was being puerilely scattershot, throwing as many jokes at the wall as it could and hoping a few might stick. “There’s Something About Mary” played handicaps for laughs respectably; this movie’s too dumb to even recognize the taboo was there.

Witness the rest of the depravity, aimed at shocking an audience that, for heaven’s sake, really can’t be shocked anymore. We’ve seen every part of the human body, internal and external, be used for everything it can possibly be used for. All the bodily functions have been exploited, all the sexual vulgarisms have been uttered. Old people have had sex with young people. Foreigners have been used as comic foils. The more I think of it, the more this movie just seems like a retread of “American Pie,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.” It brings out the occasional chuckle amidst a sea of disgust and boredom, but it is not worth wading through that sea to find those few laughs.

D- (; R, abundant harsh profanity, abundant crude sexual dialogue, a lot of nudity, a lot of gross stuff.)

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.

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