Rated R - Running Time: 1:32 - Released 4/5/02

Anyone old enough to remember National Lampoon's Animal House will recognize the similarities between it and the Lampoon's new college party movie, Van Wilder. The thing is, no one in Van Wilder's target audience is old enough to remember Animal House. And it's a good thing, because this film doesn't compare very favorably. Telling the tale of a perpetual senior who has decided to make college his home, Van Wilder is mainly a collection of dumb sight gags, gross-out jokes, and comic sex, with a dull-as-dishwater premise and a spotty cast list. While its star, Ryan Reynolds, is reasonably charming and shows a good sense of timing, his romantic opposite, Tara Reid, shows all the sparkle and spontaneity of a wet paper bag. Reid, who holds the award for Most Boring Character in both the American Pie movies and Josie And The Pussycats, proves again she is nothing more than a cheaper version of her former classmate, Sarah Michelle Gellar. That is, a pretty face with no other redeeming qualitites.

Written by Brent Goldberg & David Wagner and directed by Walt Becker (all virtual novices), the film introduces us to its title character (Reynolds), a suave, charming 7th-year undergrad at Coolidge College, who, although he hardly ever goes to class, is more intelligent than anyone else on campus, including the professors, and has a long line of people interviewing for the coveted position as his assistant. The winner is an Indian transfer student named Taj (Kal Penn), who admits that his interest in the post stems from a desire to get laid. But when Van's dad (Tim Matheson) decides to cut off his son's tuition money, Van and Taj must come up with $20,000 for him to stay in school. Thinking this is an interesting story idea, the school newspaper editor (played briefly by Tom Everett Scott) assigns no-nonsense journalist and Most Boring Character winner Gwen (Reid) to get the story.

The film goes predictably from there, with Gwen at first disliking Van, but then discovering that he's really a charming guy with integrity and scruples, as opposed to her own snooty frat-boy fiancé (Daniel Cosgrove), and for some reason, Van is attracted to her, too. Along the way we are treated to every juvenile joke imaginable, from a sex-crazed elderly woman to a dog with huge testicles to a diarrhea-plagued final exam student. It's all absolutely hilarious if you are under 16 years old.

Tara Reid really stinks in this film. I had not noticed how bad she was in the past, probably because in her other films she was wisely relegated to the background (i.e., room decoration) while others were given the more substantive parts. But in the romantic leading role, she shows about as much talent as a stick. She's having no fun and she's not helping us have any, either; her smiles are pasted-on and insincere, her anger is fake, and she reads her lines like the ingredients on the back of a cereal box. Reynolds excels at being the clever bad boy with a heart of gold, and Penn has some mildly amusing moments, but Reid's lifeless technique has a sucking quality that brings everyone else down with it. Although this film bears the same environment as Animal House, the similarity ends there. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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