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IN SHORT: One lightweight popcorn comedy, to go. [R for strong sexual content, gross humor, language and some drug content.]
Originally called Van Wilder: Party Liaison, this film was retitled to make us old farts nostalgic for what was by far the funniest magazine ever published (in the 1970s) for kidlets who had outgrown Mad. Or perhaps it is because putting the NatLamp imprimatur on a movie automatically has teenboys drooling over the promise of gratuitous nudity and druggy behavior. Has that changed in this new decade, best called the "uh-ohs," or is the thought of Tara Reid naked enough to fill theater seats? Frankly, Tara Reid looks pretty damned good with her clothes on, so we're not going to wreck any fantasies.
On a scale of one to ten, with National Lampoon's Animal House at the high end and anything close to our best idea, National Lampoon's Vacation in Hell, swimming in comedy's cesspool, this century's first NatLamp offering, Van Wilder sits solidly in the middle if not slightly higher. We're allowing for the fact that we remember Animal House as a first run feature and so may be too old to appreciate some of the advances in the realm of crude comedy. The sex jokes are appropriately raunchy. The drug jokes are almost invisible, though a combination of the two yield the biggest guffaw in the bunch. We don't know if the new owners of the Lampoon trademark were legally constrained from going whole hog and connecting story elements in Van Wilder to Animal House -- its setting on a college campus and presence of actor Tim Matheson (though not as AF's Otter) is as close as it gets -- but we won't make deductions for what the back of our brain projects, simply because the powers that own the NatLamp trademark went out and bought themselves a comedy to put their name on, lock stock and kegger.
We will tell you all about it, though.
Coolidge College is the setting for this tale, though fraternities and oppressive educators take a back seat to good ol' American capitalistic urges. It is here that the biggest man on campus, Van Wilder Jr. (Ryan Reynolds) is the go-to guy for anything that puts education in the back seat where it belongs. That means parties and high level negotiations with suicidal students. Trust us. That this flick can turn suicide into a good gag is the surest indication that writers David Wagner and Brent Goldberg are fully in tune with the Lampoon spirit. Ditto a running gag about a medically confined student.
Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) has been the Big Man On Campus for about as long as anyone at Coolidge can remember. That's because Van has been getting Wilder and Wilder every year for the past seven, fully immersing himself in the college experience doing everything possible except for meeting his course requirements for graduation. This year, though, his incredibly successful businessman dad, Van Wilder Sr. (Tim Matheson), has put a foot down, refusing to cut yet another tuition check. Bereft of funds, Van falls back on his God-given talent to raise fast cash and hires himself out to the dorkiest, nerdiest, geekiest frats on campus, and engineers their sponsorships of the coolest parties that Coolidge has ever seen.
And since Van Wilder: Party Planner would be too damned gay for a Lampoon target, we introduce our sexual element. Y'all know who . . .
Trying to discover the source of Van's power is intrepid would be journalist Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid). Assigned to do a feature exposé about the Big Man On Campus she discovers that the perennial undergraduate is a mere five or six examinations away from graduating. This forms the basis for a different kind of 'Poon on campus story, not a classic in which the slobs go up against the snobs. This one is about party animals and the need to pay tuition.
And it's got its giggles. Nothing that we're able to cite scene or punchline for, but enough that we didn't mind not paying to see the thing in advance. Then again, we were among the last pair of hands to mess with original NatLamp materials (their Radio Hour) and have a tiny pocket of softness among the blocked arteries that desperately try to spirit life giving blood away from our deteriorating heart.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to National Lampoon's Animal House, he would have paid . . .
National Lampoon's Van Wilder was better than we expected; a "not a total waste of money" kind of dateflick for those just hitting pre-collegiate years. The one drug joke in the thing is a trip and the music was all right, too.
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