[Screen It]

(2002) (Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid) (R)

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Comedy: After his father cuts off his tuition money, a popular, 7-year college student must figure out how to raise the money needed to stay in school.
Van Wilder (RYAN REYNOLDS) is the most popular student at Coolidge College, which shouldn't come as a surprise since he's been there for seven years and counting. Thus, when he decides he needs an assistant, all sorts of people try out for the position. He decides on Taj (KAL PENN), a foreign exchange student whose goal is to lose his virginity, and the two are soon hanging out with Van's other friend, Hutch (TECK HOLMES).

Van's reputation is so great that the school's newspaper editor, Elliot (TOM EVERETT SCOTT), assigns one of his reporters, Gwen (TARA REID), to do a story on him. Van agrees to let her do that story and calls it a date despite her having a boyfriend in the form of Richard Bagg (DANIEL COSGROVE), an elitist fraternity president.

Yet, Van has bigger concerns than that as his wealthy father, Vance Wilder (TIM MATHESON), has withdrawn his tuition money after learning his son is still going to college. Accordingly, Van and his friends then set out to raise the money needed for him to stay in school, all while dealing with Richard and his minion, Jeannie (EMILY RUTHERFORD), who set out to undermine his efforts and reputation, particularly when Gwen starts to like Van better than Richard.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
It's hard to say exactly when, where and who was responsible for the first instance of crude or gross out humor in the movies. Of course, on person's filth or vulgarity is another's clever or outrageous comedy. Semantics aside, however, there's no denying that the Farrelly brothers and their films - most notably "There's Something About Mary" - popularized that style of humor. They also generated a host of copycat style films or similar moments in others.

Before then, however, the folks at National Lampoon included what at the time was considered gross humor in their films. That included John Belushi in "Animal House" squeezing food from his mouth while imitating a zit and Chevy Chase unknowingly eating a sandwich a dog had just peed on in "Vacation."

Their latest effort, "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," may make some viewers long for those days of old now that such previous material seems quaint in comparison. After all, the comedy that the filmmakers have included here pushes the boundaries of even gross out humor, and makes such past crudity seem downright innocuous and G-rated.

Among the highlights, or lowlights if you will, that the film offers is dog semen-filled pastries (that are graphically consumed), a long sequence involving gastrointestinal distress with emergency discharge in a trash can, a stripper with a gale force case of gas, various instances of projectile vomiting (including that from a busload of drunk elementary school students) and the like.

If that sounds like your cup of tea or bodily fluids if that's more appropriate, you'll probably also enjoy the irreverent humor stemming from naked men with hairy backs, guys with just one long eyebrow, repeated sights of a dog's enormous testicles, nude women and obvious misdirection-based sex jokes.

Yes, the film is aimed squarely at the teen to early 20 something male who's yet to outgrow a fondness for scatological humor. Anyone looking for a semblance of sophisticated, clever or intelligent comedy should probably exit and close the bathroom door behind him.

Somewhat melding "Animal House" with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," screenwriters Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner ("The Girl Next Door," the spoof "Saving Ryan's Privates") and director Walt Becker ("Buying the Cow") concoct a story of an overachieving underachiever who must put up with a high-strung and elitist frat official who wants to do him in as he attempts to raise money to stay in school.

Borrowing elements from both of those films - and throwing in all of the scatological humor - the filmmakers have obviously intended to deliver an irreverent and raucous comedy featuring a cool protagonist who can accomplish and arrange pretty much whatever he desires.

Unfortunately, the result is a mess of a film where most of the comedy misses its mark, falls flat or is simply too stupid to possibly work. Although gross out humor once had its time and place - albeit in a very limited amount for both - it's worn out its welcome through repetition, overuse and simply pushing the limits too far, and this film is a prime reminder of just that.

Scatological material aside, there's nothing remotely interesting or novel about the rest of what the film offers. The characters go through very predictable but otherwise shallow development arcs and equally predictable and unremarkable comedy follows and/or arises from that. Simply put, if you've seen any high school or college-based comedy in the past few decades, you've pretty much seen everything this film has to offer.

While thematically similar to Matthew Broderick's lead role in "Ferris Bueller," Ryan Reynolds' ("Dick," TV's "Sabrina The Teenage Witch") portrayal of the title character here fails to capture the infectious charm that made Broderick's character work and be so much fun to behold. As the uptight frat boy, Daniel Cosgrove ("Valentine," "The Object of My Affection") is just as flat as other similar characters in such films, while Tara Reid ("Josie and the Pussycats," the "American Pie" films) is okay, but brings nothing to her flatly written role.

Kal Penn ("American Desi," "Freshmen") and Teck Holmes (TV's "The Real World") show up as the protagonist's sidekicks, but befall similar fates, with Penn providing just a stereotypical Indian caricature rather than a real person. Meanwhile, National Lampoon alumni Tim Matheson ("A Very Brady Sequel," "Animal House") has an extended cameo role that does nothing but remind viewers of how much better the Lampoon material used to be.

While I realize the film isn't aspiring to be anything more than a dumb and/or raucous comedy, there's good/smart dumb and lame/stupid dumb. This effort clearly falls into the latter category. While it may play to a certain viewer demographic, its over the top crudity and lack of imagination prevents it from being worth seeing. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" rates as a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed January 30, 2002 / Posted April 5, 2002

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