THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Once upon a time, the National Lampoon name was attached to good movies like Animal House and the Vacation series. In recent years, though, the humor magazine has sponsored straight-to-video bombs like Last Resort (starring Corey Haim and Corey Feldman) and bottom-of-the-barrel theatrical releases like Senior Trip or the current Van Wilder. It's hard to take National Lampoon's reputation for cutting-edge comedy seriously when they crank out such an unfunny, offensive, by-the-numbers film.

Ryan Reynolds plays an eternal college student in National Lampoon's Van Wilder
Ryan Reynolds (from TV's "Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place") plays Van Wilder, a student in his seventh year at Coolidge College. (Watching the film, it's obvious that the producers really wanted to cast Jason Lee in this role, because Reynolds blatantly mimics Lee's vocal mannerisms at every turn.) Van is one of those perennial partiers who seems to have sought higher education for the social opportunities rather than the educational ones. Because of his fun-loving lifestyle, he has become something of a star on campus, so much so that people line up to be hired as his "assistant." The guy who gets the job is a horny exchange student from India who is obsessed with sex. How's that for a stereotype? I believe it is one of the signs of the Apocalypse that cast members from MTV's "Real World" will begin appearing in movies. That's why it's so disturbing to see Teck Holmes from "Real World Hawaii" playing Hutch, Van's best friend.

But I'm digressing when I should be telling you all about this movie's plot, which has been copied from so many other movies that it ought to have the word "Xerox" stamped on every frame. Van's father (Tim Matheson) decides that seven years is long enough to be in college and stops tuition payments. Undeterred, Van comes up with a variety of schemes to make money so that he can stay. The most successful of them plays on his primary strength: he starts planning parties for different groups on campus. Most of these parties appear to involve paying women to have sex with male students, but that's an issue this picture sidesteps altogether.

Meanwhile, there's Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid), a serious-minded reporter for the school newspaper. Tara Reid as a dedicated journalist? I haven't seen miscasting of this proportion since Helen Hunt tried to play white trash in Pay It Forward. (Then again, a movie like this doesn't care if you believe Reid as a journalist; it only cares that she looks good in a bikini for the final scene.) Gwen is assigned to do an investigative piece on Wilder, which she doesn't want to do, but does anyway. Naturally, Van begins hitting on her, much to the dismay of her med student boyfriend Richard (Daniel Cosgrove). Richard is that oldest of cliches: the boyfriend so self-impressed and obnoxious that you can't imagine what the girl would ever have seen in him to begin with. He is also president of the Delta Iota Kappa fraternity. (That's DIK for those of you who don't get the reference.) Richard loathes Van and sets out to get his rival tossed out of school once and for all.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder is yet another in the seemingly endless line of envelope-pushing "grossout" comedies that are a dime a dozen these days. In the first scene, it appears that Van is being orally pleasured by an Asian woman he calls "Sukmi." Does it get any smarmier than that? You betcha. There are jokes about premature ejaculation. There are jokes about bizarre sexual practices. There are jokes about hookers and strippers and flatulence. Actually, one of the jokes is about a stripper with flatulence, so you get a double-whammy. There are two scenes in which vomiting plays a major role; in one of them, an annoying coed is vomited upon. Oh, there's also a scene in which someone slips a laxative into Richard's drink, causing him to have loud flatulence and uncontrollable diarrhea in front of some job recruiters. Exactly how old is this routine? I've seen it a hundred times in movies like Dumb & Dumber and American Pie. There ought to be a retirement home for old jokes that aren't funny anymore.

Those things are pale in comparison to the film's grossest gag...and I emphasize the word "gag" here. Van Wilder has the dubious distinction of featuring what has to be one of the low points of American cinema. In an extended scene, Van and crew masturbate a bulldog and inject its semen into a batch of eclairs, which are then anonymously delivered to the DIK brothers. The frat boys eat the eclairs, savoring their "creaminess," before discovering Polaroids of Van jerking the dog off at the bottom of the box. I've given positive reviews to grossout movies in the past, but this is going too far because: 1.) it's not funny; and 2.) it made me feel dirty. I don't know about you but I don't go to the movies to feel dirty, and I resent it when one makes me feel that way.

I laughed twice at Van Wilder. Once was in the first five minutes. There's a montage of people interviewing for the job as Van's assistant. Cut into the montage is none other than former "CHiPs" star Erik Estrada. (I was the only person in the nearly empty theater who even got the reference.) The other time was at the end, when a stodgy professor (Paul Gleason) visits Van's dorm room and makes a comment about the decor that I can't print here. That's two times in 94 minutes. You do the math. The other 93-and-a-half minutes I was either bored or offended. This is the kind of movie that Bluto, Otter, and the Delta House boys would have trashed a theater for showing.

( out of four)

National Lampoon's Van Wilder is rated R for strong sexual content, gross humor, language and some drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Return to The Aisle Seat