In 1978, a movie called “Animal House” hit theaters and quickly became the college student’s Bible. The film not only withstood the test of time as one of the funniest comedies ever made, but also gave birth to the National Lampoon franchise. Now, over two decades later, the National Lampoon series is trying to recapture the same zaniness the Deltas delivered with its newest addition, “Van Wilder.” However, similar to “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation,” “Van Wilder” proves that some franchises just don’t age well.
That said, “Van Wilder” isn’t a horrible movie. Compared to the dozens of other college-targeted comedies studios have been cranking out these past couple years, “Van Wilder” is one of the few films that manages to stand out. It has its share of laugh-out-loud moments, and one scene in particular will even have those who pride themselves on not being grossed out during movies running for the nearest restroom. Still, for every scene that stays true to what the name National Lampoon used to mean, there are a handful of scenes that reminds viewers what the name has become– a mere title used to draw moviegoers to the theater.
“Van Wilder” focuses on Van (Ryan Reynolds), a college student who loves school so much he’s been an undergraduate for seven years. And why not? He has women flocking to his feet, his own personal assistant and– most importantly– Daddy picking up the tuition bill. But when his father (Tim Matheson) realizes he’s been paying for Van’s bachelor degree three years too long, he refuses to pay Van’s bills any longer.
Determined not to leave the school he has grown to call home, Van decides to use his ability to throw unforgettable parties to create a temporary career as a party planner. However, when his newfound career– and the fact he’s been in college for almost a decade– attracts a school reporter (Tara Reid) to write a profile on him, she discovers Van’s biggest secret– he’s actually an honor student! When she confronts him, Van must face the fact that the reason he hasn’t graduated isn’t because he’s had so much fun in college… but because he’s scared to grow up.
Since majority of “Van Wilder” focuses on Van, it’s important that Reynolds (“Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place”) can keep an audience’s interest. Luckily, he was born for the part. Those who enjoyed Jim Carrey’s performance in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” will instantly fall in love with Reynolds’ portrayal of Van. His performance is engaging, funny and heartfelt, and viewers will find it hard to take their eyes off of him. Reynolds talent and charisma shines in the role, and whether “Van Wilder” is a success or not one can only hope that his performance will open up as many doors for him in Hollywood as lesser talented, Freddie Prinze, Jr.-type stars have received in recent years.
Unfortunately, as splendid as Reynolds is, Tara Reid is equally drab and emotionless as the reporter who supposedly (it’s implied, but her performance makes it hard to see) falls in love with Van. Reid shows little change from her character in the American Pie movies and proves that her endearing performance in Josie and the Pussycats was just a fluke. One can only wonder what casting director Barbara Fiorentino was thinking when signing Reid on, especially considering that the rest of the cast– which includes Tom Everett Scott, Real World alumnus Teck Holmes and The Breakfast Club’s Paul Gleason– gives performances worthy of sharing the screen with Reynolds.
Reid’s performance isn’t the only downfall “Van Wilder” has either. Many of the movie’s jokes fall flat on viewers’ ears, while poor editing causes others to go by so fast that by the time audiences comprehend them the moment to laugh has passed. Nevertheless, there are a few great comedic moments– and one scene that will forever change the way viewers look at pastries– that help make Van Wilder worth sitting through.
While “Van Wilder” may not be the worst National Lampoon film, it’s far from being this generation’s “Animal House.” Still, one has to give it credit for not following in the footsteps of recent forgettable comedies like Tomcats by showing a glimpse of originality and heart in the midst of the numerous predictable and tiresome jokes it delivers. And that, alongside a relatively talented cast and an outstanding performance by Ryan Reynolds, makes it worth seeing… when it’s available to rent on DVD.