`Animal House' without the laughs

Review: `Van Wilder' tries to be the campus high-jinks movie for a new generation. It's not even close.

April 05, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

National Lampoon's Van Wilder is a very funny movie ...

... in some alternate universe, maybe. But in this one, it's about as funny as a dog's naughty bits, which, coincidentally, are key to this movie's idea of inspired humor. There's a gross, mean-spirited and excruciatingly long scene involving revenge, cream-filled eclairs and the aforementioned canine parts. If this is your idea of hilarious, read no further; I can be of no help to you at all.

Everyone else, be forewarned. Don't be fooled by the National Lampoon name and comic pedigree stretching back to National Lampoon's Animal House, a terrific and truly funny film that managed to be both hilarious and in bad taste. Van Wilder sees itself as an Animal House for a new generation, even to the point of bringing back one of the actors (Tim Matheson, whose Otter was the rush chairman for Delta House).

Matheson plays the father of Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds of TV's Two Guys and a Girl, who deserves better than this), a chronic partyer and responsibility-shirker who's about to be kicked out of college after the seven best years of his life. True, Van's a campus legend, thanks to such get-rich-quick schemes as a topless tutorial service (and no, it has nothing to do with convertibles). But dad has tired of the endless tuition payments and cut off the cash flow. And since Van is without marketable skills - sadly, the tutorial service, while popular, couldn't keep him financially afloat - he's up the creek without a paddle.

That's when Van has an inspiration: He'll pay for school by planning parties, which is pretty much all he does anyway. That works until a budding young journalist named Gwen (Tara Reid, luminous but wasted) decides to chronicle his exploits in the campus newspaper. Of course, Van's such a babe magnet, she falls for him. But her obnoxious boyfriend, Richard (Daniel Cosgrove), is not happy about losing his gal. Richard also is the head of the school's most straight-laced, uptight fraternity, and he vows to bring Van down as rapidly and painfully as possible.

A stuck-up fraternity guy conspiring against the campus free spirit? Where have we seen that one before? Oh yeah, Animal House. What a coincidence - Not.

There's not an aspect of this movie that wasn't explored much more humorously in the earlier film. One could write reams about why Animal House was funny and Van Wilder isn't. One could point out the lack of talent here on a par with John Belushi (or even inhabiting the same galaxy), or talk about the difference between funny and smarmy, or discuss clever vs. crass, or debate what's more hilarious, a horse having a heart attack in the dean's office or a neutered bulldog.

But enough. Too much ink has been wasted on this movie already. See something else.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid

Directed by Walt Becker

Released by Artisan Entertainment

Rated R (Language, nudity, drugs, alcohol, crimes against comedy)

Running time 92 minutes

Sun score: *

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