Fat cats’ frat flick last fallback

Van Wilder

Directed by Walt Becker

(Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid, Kal Penn, Tim Matheson)

R

Q. What does National Lampoon Films have in common with Olympic Gold Medalist Sarah Hughes?

A. Both achieved complete success with their first effort. It is downhill from then on for them.

 

National Lampoon’s most famous, first, and best film was Animal House. It has been a steep slide since then. It is hard to say whether it bottomed out with Attack of the 5’2″ Women and Senior Trip, but these efforts certainly could not have provided much inspiration, because they led to a five-year movie-making hiatus.

National Lampoon’s latest gross-out comedy comes in an environment of corporate desperation, as its parent, J2 Communications, is on the verge of being de-listed from the NASDAQ SmallCap market. (Stock symbol JTWO for all you gutsy bottom-fishers out there). There ain’t much farther down than that.

The company is pinning its hopes on its new release, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. It may not save the company, but it is a teeny step headed the right way.

(Be forewarned, we have a nomenclature problem coming up. Not only is the film awkwardly titled, but its main character has the same name as the film. So we will call the film, “Mildly Amusing,” and its hero, “Van Wilder.”)

Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is an undergraduate who has peaked out early. He spent the last seven years of his life becoming a pop icon in college. His cult status has not only granted him legendary recognition, but annointed him with privileges like having a personal assistant and a golf cart to drive to class. When his wealthy father realizes his son has done nothing with his life except spend money, he decides to stop paying tuition. This forces Van Wilder to become a party planner for hire so he can stay in college. When school journalist Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) starts an interview piece with Van Wilder, everything changes. Once he falls for her, she helps him get a better understanding of his attitude toward college life.

The problem with this scenario is that Van Wilder bottoms out at the level at which I aspire to peak. To become a party planner who is chased by a beautiful school journalist is all I want out of life.

Is Mildly Amusing the Animal House for our generation? In one way it is. Mildly Amusing takes place in college, points out the ironic follies of college life and makes everyone laugh. In another way it is not. While Animal House had a stable ground of realism, Mildly Amusing uses too much “gross out” comedy, a genre adequately explored in Something About Mary. In another, more entertaining way, it is a polar opposite of Animal House. While Animal House glorified the frat life, Mildly Amusing denigrates it. It wastes no time pointing out the stupidity of joining an organization filled with morons who never moved beyond their high school mentality.

Mildly Amusing feels like hundreds of shorts you would find on Saturday Night Live, all tied together with a weak piece of string that Lampoon perceives to be a plot. But it made me laugh. Is this the next Animal House? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.

– Nick Conant

 

Van Wilder opens Friday in theaters nationwide.