Lower Education

This gross-out Van is definitely not a-rockin'.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder
Hey, dude. How does your taste in college humor run? Feel like seeing a half-dozen smug frat boys devour cream puffs filled with dog semen? How about a field trip to a topless club, where the most luscious stripper in the place evidently had beans for lunch? Wanna see (and hear) what happens when an angry coed slips her insufferable ex-boyfriend a laxative-loaded milk shake just before his big med-school interview?

Merely labeling National Lampoon's Van Wilder "sophomoric" or "vulgar" doesn't do justice to the perpetrators' dedication. Director Walt Becker and co-writers Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner obviously mean to out-gross (in both senses of the word) the Farrelly brothers, Tom Green, and Sorority Boys -- and maybe enrage a few televangelists and Republican legislators in the bargain. This by no means constitutes an endorsement.

The "hero" of this work of art is one Van Wilder (Two Guys and a Girl's Ryan Reynolds), a smooth-talking Big Man on Campus who's in his seventh year as an undergraduate at a vine-covered temple of learning and leering called Coolidge College. Van hasn't actually attended any classes in the last three or four semesters, and he's in no great rush to graduate. Instead, Van continues to hide out in his own soiled ivory tower -- where he gets wasted on Jell-O shots, has his way with pneumatic coeds, smokes a little dope, and drives his golf cart around the campus. Did we say that Van Wilder is also a good guy everyone loves?

Goldberg and Wagner's paper-thin "plot" does not withstand much scrutiny: Finally fed up with his perennial college boy, Dad (Tim Matheson) stops payment on the current tuition check, and poor Van must suddenly apply all his hard-earned skills to staying in school and maintaining his lifestyle, which is that of a low-budget Hugh Hefner. His partners in the enterprise include a horny Indian exchange student named Taj (Kal Penn) and a familiar collection of sycophants and slackers, all of whom have a veneer of bawdy theatricality over their essential folksy innocence. Meanwhile, the obligatory blonde-our-hero's-about-to-fall-for is named Gwen (American Pie's Tara Reid), and she's an earnest, ambitious reporter for the school paper who's been assigned to write Van's profile. While the moviemakers dole out the usual vomiting incidents, bodily function jokes, and campus nerd parties, Gwen dumps her officious boyfriend (Daniel Cosgrove) and transfers her affections to Van, who not only manages to raise $20,000 for tuition (as a "party liaison") but, in a final dose of adolescent wishful thinking, grows up by taking and passing final exams in five classes he's never attended.

When Groucho Marx served as Huxley College's dean of students in Horse Feathers, he satirized higher education, college sports -- even the Depression itself, with a brilliant torrent of nihilistic jokes; by the time John Belushi and his dissolute frat brothers trashed campus life in the 1978 classic Animal House, food fights, slob humor, and a healthy contempt for folk music were the orders of the day. With Van Wilder, the bar has been drastically lowered. Let's just pray there's no sequel.

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