Van Wilder (2002)

Our Hero, in his natural habitat.I hate modern comedies. Their grotesque obsessions are polluting the very fabric of our culture. We are getting dumber for no reason. It has nothing to do with resources. Thanks to the Farrelly brothers, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, and the curious cloud of anti-rationality radiation hanging over Los Angeles,  Hollywood just throws money at the people who produce gross out comedies. Future film historians will look back and wonder how, each year, as the twenty-first century opened, more production companies wasted so much talent into this cinematic cul-de-sac? I’m not sure what scares me more: the fact that this kind of movie exists, or the fact that it is so popular.

All of which brings me to Van Wilder, which I recently borrowed from a co-worker who hyped it as the funniest National Lampoon picture in twenty years. She wasn’t that exact…but really, the point is this: Chris, I love you, chica, but we radically different taste. Not that she knows this site exists. I’ll have to tell her in person. I’ve spent the past three days figuring out just what to say. What do you say to your friend when s/he hands you a piece of crap and tells you it’s the laugh-out-loud hit of the young decade?

I’m jealous of Chris. I really am. She can actually enjoy this film. It is a film for her time, and for that I’m happy. You go girl. But I refuse to go with you. You walk alone. Enjoy it while it last. The Great Scorekeeper fills out all our columns sooner or later. I shall be avenged for Van Wilder.

This is the latest in that endless wave of feel-good College Comedies Americans (apparently) like oh so much. This kind of schtick couldn’t possibly have gotten old back in 1988. Ryan Reynolds is Van Wilder, a seven-year college student with more interpersonal skill than a Betazoid on crank. Van’s managed to make friends with just about everyone during his stay at Coolidge College. So why, when college reporter Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) act like she’s never heard of him when an assignment to profile Wilder falls into her lap?

Never mind. That’s not the story. The real story begins when Van’s father (Tim Matheson, an Obligatory Nod to Animal House) finds out his son has wasted seven years (and God knows how much money) doing what college kids do in movies: drinking, fucking, and smoking (gasp) reefer. Disgusted with his son’s sloth Vance Wilder Sr. immediately cuts Junior off, leaving Our Hero with no way to pay. The movie paints Vance Sr. as a complete ass. I kinda sympathized with him…but still, sir…you never bothered to…I don’t know…visit your son in all that time? You couldn’t even hire someone to keep tabs on him?

Never mind that either. Its up to Van, his Indian stereotype Taj (Kal Penn), and his Token Black Dude, Hutch (Teck “Real World” Holmes) to raise enough money to keep Van in school, living it up. Kill two birds with one stone, the three transform Wilder into the Coolidge’s first-and-only “Party Liaison.” This is why I hate modern comedies. In their eagerness to be loved, they’ve become as shamelessly cannibalistic as the Slasher genre. So you’ll forgive me, but I’m not terribly interested in seeing another classic Underachiever bilk idiots out of their money so he can continuing drinking and fucking his way to adulthood. What are we, seventeenth century Britain?

But wait, there’s more. You see, the real story began the moment Gwen Pearson gets assigned to do her bio-piece on Van. She pursues him, he pursues her, blah blah blah. Of course, Gwen’s boyfriend, a pre-Med frat boy named Dick (Daniel Cosgrove), gets miffed at their sudden friendliness. An escalating war of gross-out komedy ensues. Stand out scenes include Van’s sexual liaisons with a geriatric teacher, the usual Fun with Laxatives, and and an extended bit of dog sperm-munching that actually made me wretch…something which hasn’t happened since Scary Movie.

But you want to know the worst part? The real horror of it? Van Wilder…isn’t all that bad. I mean, it’s a pointless waste of however many millions it cost…but from a technical stand point, at least it’s efficient, written, produced and directed by professionals, steeped in their craft. If I weren’t bashing out my brains waiting for Our Lover’s to Reconcile after the Inevitable Misunderstanding, I might actually have enjoyed this piece. Except for the dog sperm. And the projectile vomiting. And the obligatory Guy With A Skin Condition jokes.

Take Ryan Reynolds. With twenty movies and three TV shows under his belt, Mr. Reynolds at least has a grasp of things like “timing” and “character touches”. You know, the things that really make comedy work. (Canine seminal fluid? Not funny.) Reynolds really sinks his teeth in here, though I can only guess why he chose to portray Van as a Jason Lee impersonation. At least its an enthusiastic one, animating Van in such a way, he escapes the one-dimensionality that curses almost everyone else in the film. Plus. screenwriters Brent Goldberg and David Wagner give him all the best lines. And some of them are quite clever. At times it’s like picking diamond chips out of an oil slick. A toxic spill that is the rest of this film. Like Tara Reed. Yes, you know. Urban Legends, Cruel Intentions, American Pie (1 & 2), Tara Reed, as the Love Interest. Lord. As if we need to see another Uptight, Straight-Arrow discover her Inner-Self through forbidden love with the Underachiever. She’s cute and all but, Jesus, girl, you gotta respect yo-self. You think you’re gonna net an Oscar with lines like, “I couldn’t decide what panties to wear”? And who chose Daniel Cosgrove for the role of the Evil Frat Boy? I mean…he’s no Ted McGinley now, is he? Are you, Mr. Guiding Light? Mr. All Souls. Mr. Valentine? Screw you, bub.

In fact, screw ’em all. Van Wilder is a pat, assembly-line piece of crap, wait for you, like land mines lain in the video store by a group of domestic terrorists. ” ‘Disgusting’ is the new ‘funny’!” they say. “The end of Western Civilization is nigh! Let’s all get drunk, pass out, and laugh at handicapped people while we still can! Oh, and by the way, let’s nail Tara Reed before the terrorists and Democrats swarm over the walls and end all our good, clean, American fun.”

You see, I have a very personal problem with Van Wilder. ''I  wonder, Tara, is there any truth to that Urban Legend about your secret  sex tape?''The above is just an eagle eye’s view. Closer to home, we find this movie can’t help but remind me of other, better comedies from a by-gone age, the 1980s. The films that first pressed this mold. Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House and…well, Animal House again. Just look: You’ve got Tim Matheson as The Father and Curtis “Booger” Armstrong as the fumbling Campus Cop. Watching my hero, Booger (who, unlike his imitators, used gross-out comedy, but was not of gross out comedy) play the least important role in the film just drove the stake through my heart. Of course, one could always nominate Teck Holmes’ Token Black Dude (Van’s roommate…I guess) for the same title…but I’ve long since grown out of wasting brain cells on The Real World. Dude, stick to the rap game. You’ll make money, you’ll get shot, and we’ll all be happy. There might at last be world peace.

Unfortunately, the world will never resemble the carefree, party-till-you-die world of Van Wilder and its kin. Amazing Hollywood still thinks this vision of the world has some life left in it when we’re already running out of oil, air, Arctic Ice…even coastline. Every time I tune in, it’s always the same old thing. Another Guy on another Campus lusting after another Girl who’s dating Another Asshole. Is this the only thing going on in America today? Sweet Jesus, we lead empty lives. If that’s the case, I might as well hand out Jegermeister to grade school  students too. They’ll be needing it soon enough anyway, in high school.

Really, I’ve been waiting for this: a movie I can genuinely despise. Something to hate and vilify without reservation. If nothing else, I owe Chris for that. Thank you, Lady. But this film blows.


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