Here we go again — yet another in the seemingly endless procession of stupid teen flicks. I’m firmly convinced that no one actually makes these movies. They must breed like some peculiarly virulent strain of cockroach. This one scales the heights of inadequacy to reach the pinnacle of mediocrity. Van Wilder — or to give it its full due, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder — is perhaps marginally superior to films like Slackers only because it has the look of a professionally made movie and has something resembling a coherent plot. (We probably shouldn’t mention that it boasts a bit part for a proctologist named … uh … Dr. Hanke.) Part of the problem, of course, is that there was a time when the name National Lampoon actually meant something. That was a lifetime ago, however, courtesy of a brilliantly subversive humor magazine (remember the infamous “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine We’ll Shoot This Dog” cover?) and various offshoots like National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner. Now, the best the Lampoon group can do is retread and dumb-down Animal House (now there’s a goal). Somewhere along the way, they confused “subversive” with “gross-out,” and so we’re treated to a generic, predictable, utterly boring college comedy peppered with gross-out gags that smell far more of desperation than inspiration. After those unfortunate incidents involving Jason Biggs and the pie (American Pie), and Cameron Diaz and the “hair gel” (There’s Something About Mary), the gross-out stakes rose to such dizzying heights that it became nigh on to impossible to up the ante without heading straight for the viewer’s gag-reflex. Hence, we’re treated to a bunch of frat boys ingesting a basketful of cream puffs made with bulldog semen this round. If that strikes you as the height of wit, then Van Wilder might be up your alley. The film’s concept is old enough to be drawing Social Security. The old gag about a professional college student at least dates back to Bob Cummings in How to Be Very, Very Popular in 1955. Only there, it was handled with some wit, since Cummings’ character was milking a trust fund that paid off as long as he went to school. Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) just wants to stay in college because it suits him to be the Big Man on Campus. What we’re given then is a hero who amounts to little more than a severe case of arrested development. That might work on some level, if the hero in question possessed any comedic value whatsoever. As played by the smirking Reynolds, Van Wilder himself just isn’t very funny. The film is too concerned with making him likable — accomplished by constantly interjecting scenes of him engaged in various charitable enterprises, all of which are cliched to the hilt and most of which are wholly predictable. Despite the destined-to-become-legendary cream-puff sequence, the bulk of the movie consists of jokes and gags you’ve seen hundreds of times in both better and worse movies, adding side-trips into schmaltzy sentimentality. If you’re in the market for a college comedy (why, I cannot imagine), try Sorority Boys instead. Comparatively speaking, that movie has the combined wit and sophistication of a collaboration between Noel Coward and Bernard Shaw.
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