It’s been so long since “Animal House” and the heyday of the “Vacation” movies that one wonders if the National Lampoon name still holds any sort of cinema cachet. Regardless, the return appearance of the legendary humor magazine’s name in a theatrical release title is the only apparent selling point for “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” which could have easily been released as “Another Gross-Out Comedy.”
Ryan Reynolds, whose dubious claim to quasi-fame was a starring role on little-watched, much-ridiculed sitcom “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” plays the title character, Coolidge College’s big man on campus–in more ways than one. Not only is Van the guy to turn to for a good time, he’s also in his seventh year (and counting) of undergraduate studies. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Van’s rich father (Tim Matheson), who cuts off his financing. As he goes to great lengths to fund his frat party of a life, Van also pursues Gwen (Tara Reid), a student reporter whose no-nonsense ways lead him to think seriously about his future.
The inklings of change don’t come until late in the film, for other things (ahem) come for most of the rest of the run time, namely Van’s bulldog in a sequence that exemplifies the level of comedy in this film: gross-out humor that is definitely disgusting but not at all that humorous. While not gross himself, Reynolds certainly isn’t too funny; a little of his sub-Jim Carrey mugging goes a long way, and within five minutes he’s managed to make Van a thoroughly off-putting character. Also playing an off-putting character but through no fault of his own is Kal Penn as Van’s personal assistant, a stereotypical repressed type from India. If only the audience could react with the same bored indifference as the seemingly sleepy Reid; alas, “Van Wilder” is much too aggressively juvenile crass to not provoke a strong reaction, one that more than likely would fall on the negative end of the spectrum.