|National Lampoon's Van Wilder|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 20 August 2002|
Recognized for irreverent and cutting-edge comedy, National Lampoon delivers yet another rollicking, just-short-of-offensive but romantic slapstick movie, “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” about life and love during the college years. Ryan Reynolds stars as the title character, a student who has spent the past seven years at Coolidge College. During that time, Van has managed to involve himself in all organizations, fraternities, and events that have caught even his passing fancy without graduating. He’s a campus legend. Everyone knows him. However, his estranged father has never really spent time with him to know him, and — despite ongoing flings with the ladies — Van has never found love.
All of that is about to change.
Chapter 1 opens up with Van returning to school in the spring. His
voiceover narration pulls the viewer into the story immediately, as does the potentially risqué scene in which Van is introduced. When a campus cop spots a jumper perched on a building, the sirens of the emergency vehicles arriving on the scene whip through the surround sound system and draw Van’s interest. Going up on the rooftop, Van quickly takes care of the situation and talks to the potential jumper – sans his pants and underwear, coming across as the coolest of the cool.
In Chapter 2, Van discovers a line wrapped around the building, consisting of people who hope to become his assistant for the semester. He meets a succession of assistant wannabes that get wildly more zany and improbable, including Erik Estrada, blowing away any pretensions of seriousness. The deep voice of the siren and Van’s immediate response of sliding back in his chair is physical comedy at its best. Another possible source of conflict comes into play when the overly serious and goal-oriented Gwen, a reporter for the school paper, is given the assignment to get the real story on Van.
Chapter 3 rocks into the surround sound system with the soundtrack and segues smoothly into the crowd noises of a basketball game. However, things are not going well for Coolidge College because the team is losing. Van figures the team is uninspired and takes it upon himself to deliver the half-time motivational speech to the players. Of course, the security guards let Van straight through to the locker room and the hearing-impaired coach never even knows he was there. The team rebounds from their doldrums with an intensity that electrifies.
In Chapter 4, while the surround sound system throbs with the music, Mr. Wilder drops in on one of Van’s parties. All the guys are dressed up in women’s wear and have makeup on. At first, Mr. Wilder catches Van coming out of the closet and thinks there are things about his son that he should have known. Then he sees that Van’s partner is female. During the argument that follows, Mr. Wilder explains that Van’s tuition expenses are no longer going to be paid. Desperate, Van goes to the admissions office and tries to get an extension. In the end, he’s able to extend his time to pay and to set up monthly payments through “extraordinary” means. With only 34 dollars left to his name, Van does whatever red-blooded American college student would do when faced with a dire predicament: he goes to the strip club.
While at the strip club in Chapter 6, with the rock blaring from the surround system and placing us in the middle of the action, Van gets the first of several ideas that keep him afloat during the school semester: Topless Tutors.
In Chapter 10, in an effort to get away from reporter Gwen’s attentions, which disturb Van both because she’s interfering in his campus life and because he’s growing uncomfortably attracted to her, he stages a rain storm in the class of a professor who has become a familiar adversary to him. The surround sound system places us in the center of the action. Chapter 13 features a revenge gag that is completely nauseating while appealing to the teen audience’s proclivity for the ultimate gross-out.
The rest of the movie is filled with plenty of jams to kick the viewing over into a pleasurable pursuit. The surround sound system isn’t stressed out to meet the performance demands, but it does underscore a fun story.
Although “Van Wilder” comes dressed as a two-disc package, it could have easily gotten away with only one. The full-screen and widescreen presentations, both on one disc, take up room that the slim accompaniment of extras could have used. The outtakes are fun to watch, and the deleted scenes show information that the final cut unveils through dialogue, but a commentary during the movie would have really been appreciated. This is National Lampoon, after all. Surely someone connected with the project has interesting stories to tell about the actors, actresses, and the days of shooting.
“Van Wilder” is a familiar love story that follows an easily recognizable plot terrain. However, the highly charged sexual innuendo, beginning with the pantsfitting scene in the beginning and moving directly on to the triple-X-rated bulldog, moves the DVD well past the PG-13 territory and buries the needle at adult humor. While a group of guys can get together and watch this one, “Van Wilder” will tread on more sensitive palates and may change the viewer’s appreciation of French pastries forever.