Main cast: Ryan Reynolds (Vance “Van” Wilder Jr), Tara Reid (Gwendolyn “Gwen” Pearson), Kal Penn (Taj Mahal Badalandabad), Paul Gleason (Professor McDougal), Daniel Cosgrove (Richard “Dick” Bagg), Teck Holmes (Hutch), Emily Rutherford (Jeannie), and Tim Matheson (Vance Wilder Sr)
Director: Walt Becker
How do you make a parody of over-the-top teen sex comedies? It will be hard to make fun of movies that are already making fun of themselves, so National Lampoon’s Van Wilder takes a pretty interesting approach: it opted to become a pretty decent movie instead. And, indeed, “decent” describes this movie for the most part.
Supposedly “loosely” based on comedian Bert Kreischer’s exploits in college, this one introduces Vance Wilder Jr who spent the last six years in college generally being everyone’s best friend. Much to the exasperation of Professor McDougal and several other educators, Van doesn’t seem to want to graduate at all. Instead, he generally throws parties, arranges fundraising spectacles for various school bodies and associations, motivates those who are down, and even provides medication for the college kids’ various STDs.
When his annoyed father finally cuts off funding for Van’s continuous education, Van isn’t too concerned. Life is too short for worrying over things, he’d say, so he begins charging money for his parties and such. In the meantime, he even has time to try to help his bumbling assistant, exchange student Taj from India, to achieve his dream of losing his virginity.
Van stumbles, however, when star reporter for the student newspaper Gwendolyn Pearson is assigned to write a series of articles on him. He immediately begins pursuing her – in fact, it seems like love at first sight for him. Gwen, however, is attached the predictable asshole boyfriend Richard Bagg, a star student who is on his way to med school.
What is really surprising here is the sweet and tender romance between Val and Gwen. Val is actually a very nice guy instead of a refugee from a typical raunchy teen comedy, while Gwen bucks the stereotype considerably by being a brainy girl who is also secure and confident about her looks and abilities. Say what you will about the acting capabilities of Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid, but they are pretty decent in their roles here. While the romance is full of tired platitudes about Val needing to embrace his inner anger and find the courage to grow up, that kind of thing, the whole thing is generally well done in a cute and adorable manner.
What this movie is pretty bad at, however, is comedy. It is rarely funny. For a while, the romance does make up for this surprising failure, but during the late third or so, the movie remembers that it should be a lot more funny and tries to bring on the over the top moments. That is when it spectacularly falls apart. The funny moments are actually dire and the hackneyed clichéd moments start piling up, so this part of the movie is a chore to sit through.
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder is a far better movie than I expected, but it never succeeds in becoming anything more than a watchable type of mediocrity.