"National Lampoon's Van Wilder" - a glossy, obnoxious movie about Coolidge College party king Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds), who stages wild "let's-get-wrecked-and-barf" bashes for the student body - is the latest college comedy from the National Lampoon humor corporation. And perhaps that outfit should consider filing for intellectual bankruptcy. The Lampoon has been sticking its name on increasingly bad sex-obsessed school comedies for 25 years. The brash brio and explosive irreverence that marked the Lampoon's raunchy, hilarious debut picture, "Animal House," back in 1978 seem dead. True to debacles like 1982's "National Lampoon's Class Reunion" and 1995's "National Lampoon's Senior Trip," this is an unabashedly bad movie full of cliches, claptrap, fairly good rock 'n' roll and stomach-turning gross-out gags.
Only some fitful personality turns from the actors -especially Reynolds as Wilder and Tara Reid as knockout campus reporter Gwen Pearson - keep the whole sorry mess from collapsing into nonstop gaseous stereotypes, strained political incorrectness and frenzied nonsense.
Reynolds smirks his way through the movie as seven-year Coolidge undergraduate Van, who has been dodging homework, staging blowouts and stealing the parking space of infuriated Professor McDoogle (Paul Gleason) since his freshman year. He has it all down to a science, catering to campus groups in search of an orgy with the help of a cell phone, a computer and two assistants (Teck Holmes as Hutch and Kal Penn as the frantic virgin from India, Taj Mahal Badalandabad). But a crisis looms. Van's dad, Vance Wilder (played by Tim Matheson, who was the suave ladies' man Otter in "Animal House"), miffed at his son's endless education, cuts off his allowance, forcing Van to earn tuition money on his own.
That he does - starting up a hugely popular Topless Tutors program and charging for his parties. But the plot thickens when sprightly campus reporter Gwen is assigned to do a story on Van. Her interviews soon turn into rendezvous, and she becomes the object of Van the Man's smirking lusts, to the anger of her uptight pre-med boyfriend Dick (Daniel Cosgrove). Dick, student body prez and mainstay of the Delta Icka Kappa, or DIK, fraternity, pulls dirty tricks to get Van disgraced and expelled; Van pulls dirty gags to make Dick nauseous.
Even if you like Farrelly Brothers humor, the movie is pretty crude: In the centerpiece gag, the movie's entry in the Ben Stiller zipper sweepstakes, Wilder and friends saw off the gigantic scrotum of his pet bulldog and inject canine semen into a platter of eclair pastries, which are then devoured with lip-smacking relish by the unknowing Dick and his DIK fraternity brothers. In the midst of it all is smirking Van, the prototypical student fantasy figure: campus slickster and party master, a babe magnet who really has brains and a heart of gold and winds up with the entire campus rooting for him to get his degree and Tara Reid.
Reynolds starts out irritatingly, as if he were trying to hold aloft the banner of both Rob Lowe and Chevy Chase, but around the middle, he uses his relaxed style to get a few honest laughs in a movie where honest laughs are hard to come by.
Director Walt Becker shows no visual style, little sense of pace or mood, and he doesn't even stage any decent parties. Writers Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner were responsible for a short comedy called "Saving Ryan's Privates," which should give you an idea of their sense of humor. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" lacks style and substance and, unlike "Animal House," it doesn't even have a socio-political viewpoint. Van is simply a rich kid who fights for the right to paaaaar-ty. The movie is no worse than an average wet T-shirt contest, but it's not much better, either - and most wet T-shirt contests have better stories.
1 1/2 stars
"National Lampoon's Van Wilder"
Directed by Walt Becker; written by Brent Goldberg, David T. Wagner; photographed by James Bagdonas; edited by Dennis M. Hill; production designed by Rachel Kamerman; music by David Lawrence; produced by Robert L. Levy, Peter J. Abrams, Andrew Panay, Jonathon Komack-Martin. An Artisan Entertainment release; opens Friday, April 5. Running time: 1:32. MPAA rating: R (sensuality, nudity, language).
Van Wilder - Ryan Reynolds
Gwen Pearson - Tara Reid
Vance Wilder Sr. - Tim Matheson
Taj Mahal Badalandabad - Kal Penn
Hutch - Teck Holmes
Richard Bagg - Daniel Cosgrove Professor McDoogle - Paul Gleason
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune movie critic.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times