National Lampoon's Van Wilder: Party Liaison Review
Over the years National Lampoon has brought us some comedy greats including Animal House and European Vacation, though my personal favourite has always been Loaded Weapon 1 featuring William Shatner’s hilarious turn as a drugs baron. Several years later however, the National Lampoon series has become one that lacks originality. One recent example is National Lampoon’s Men in White, a truly horrible film that was nothing more than a tacky television spoof of Men in Black. It is films such as this that have destroyed my faith in the series as they cash in on current hits, and now we have National Lampoon’s Van Wilder which is, surprise, surprise, a teen comedy.
Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is a college senior who is very popular around campus but not one of the greatest when it comes to education. After being in college for seven years without even trying to graduate, his rich father Van Wilder Senior is not at all happy and cuts off all tuitions fees leaving Van penniless and facing eviction. With help from personal assistant Taj (Karl Penn) and fellow college buddy Hutch (Teck Holmes), Van sets out to raise the funds he needs to pay his own way. Original ideas such as topless tutors (using strippers) are promising but eventually fail, but then Van throws a roller disco party for some college nerds who are willing to pay for his services and the cash flow problem has seemingly been solved as Van becomes a professional party organiser.
While all this is going on, Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) is commissioned by the college newspaper to do a story on Van. Unfortunately he is not interested in talking to the college press which results in a story based upon the opinions of those who know Van Wilder, and is not one the man himself finds at all flattering. When a second story is commissioned for graduation, Van steps forward so he and Gwen end up spending a lot of time together with the possibility of romance beginning to arise. This is far from a simple relationship though as Gwen’s over studied and self centred boyfriend Richard (Daniel Cosgrove) disapproves of the time his girlfriend is spending with Van. The medical student will stop at nothing in his attempts to separate the two even if it means resorting to the dirtiest tricks in the book.
I have to admit that the recent string of teen films have put me off sometimes, clone after clone of American Pie just keeps coming out about people trying to get it on in a movie. But Van Wilder surprised me. It's not a film about having as much sex as possible in college, though there are moments where sex is at the forefront with Taj wanting to learn how to be a professional lover through lessons from Van. However, instead of having a raunchy college film we have one that is all about the fun of college life. The character of Van Wilder isn’t someone who cares just for himself; he is a character that shows he cares for fellow students. He organizes events to help raise funds for teams such as the swimming club and it's this sort of character that makes for a refreshing change as the lead in a teen comedy.
Of course, we do have the odd gross out moment that produces what I feel are some genuine and sickening laughs. If you do see this film, you might never want to eat an éclair again especially if it comes with the filling that is used here. However, what impresses me about this film is that it doesn’t yearn to use these gross out moments to propel the film along its running time.
Apart from this, Van Wilder is very predictable with an ending you can guess a mile off in the final third of the film. But what separates Van Wilder from the standard sexually driven gross-out college movies is the substance of its humour which is nicely produced from the cast. Ryan Reynolds (who strangely looks like a mixture of Jason Lee and Jim Carrey) is a very likeable lead and he delivers, as does his main support in the form of Karl Penn who is humorous in his performance as the Indian student turned assistant Taj. Unfortunately their performances are not complimented well by Tara Reid who is just lacking something. There isn’t much charisma in her role and the overall effect makes her sound bored throughout. On the other hand, I could be wrong if it’s part of her character to act mostly deadpan.
Overall, Van Wilder is an enjoyable film. It’s not the greatest college movie ever nor is it the greatest teen comedy ever made. Plus it’s not a film that deserves to be part of the National Lampoon stable despite the nods to such films as Animal House. But it is worthy enough to be a comedy that people can waste 90 minutes on and enjoy without having any serious plots to consider.
Video and Sound
Van Wilder is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As this is a recent movie the transfer is pretty solid with no major problems to speak as it offers a sharp picture with clean vibrant colours that are pleasing to the eye.
In terms of audio we find both English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround tracks available. The presentation of sound is again solid though I would like to point out that Van Wilder is not a film with a very active soundstage. Of course we have the party scenes in which all five speakers come alive with the sounds of a good party, and a few sequences that feature a large crowd and do a good job of recreating that kind of atmosphere, but other than that everything else seems to come from the front soundstage.
Now, this is the part where the Region 2 DVD falls flat on its face. In the U.S, they produced a two disc unrated cut of the film with a second disc of extras. But what do we get? A collection of trailers, TV spots and the odd interview that have left me appalled with Momentum.
The disc is loaded with the trailers and TV spots that were used to advertise Van Wilder. Nice for anyone who’s interested in the promotion of a film but this makes the whole DVD seem bare.
If there is the chance of the DVD extras being saved by the interviews then someone is sadly mistaken. The interviews with Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid and Karl Penn are acceptable. They talk about how they see their characters, how they played them, and how they spent time on the set which includes a nice story about putting pictures of Reynolds and the films producers all around Tara Reid’s trailer. Though shallow these interviews still manage to put the next batch to shame. This is because the interviews with the director (Walt Becker), writers (Brent Goldberg & David Wagner), and the producers lack depth. Their interviews consist of one question answered within the space of a minute producing the overall feeling that there wasn't much to talk about the film.
Van Wilder is an enjoyable film thanks to a likeable cast and a story that isn’t your typical stereotyped college movie that focuses on sex all the time. But an enjoyable film is let down by appalling extras that only warrants a rental of the DVD. If you truly loved this film and have a multi-region player then I suggest you get the R1 two-disc unrated cut as it offers a better all-round package than what we have here.