Trends can be very dangerous things, since every medium of expression is plagued by the ebb and flow of popular demand. Every so often, a new esthetic credo is set in place, and soon after, the market is flooded with uninspired reinterpretations of familiar characters and situations. Audiences become bored and anxious to move on.
People wonder how weak ideas get so popular in the first place, as the trends inevitably disintegrate into self-parody and are cast aside for newer, hipper subject matter. Occasionally, however, a film comes along to remind us all why a seemingly irrelevant genre is not only worth our time, but actually deserves our attention. National Lampoon’s Van Wilder is one such movie.
Fitting comfortably into the realm of “teen comedy,” Van Wilder rises far above its juvenile shock-comedy contemporaries. Ryan Reynolds portrays Van, a man looking forward to enjoying his seventh year at Coolidge College. A true man about campus, Wilder uses his popularity and social skills to make the most of his scholastic experience … with the minor exception of actually graduating.
Reynolds is able to portray his character in a manner unheard of in teen movies for quite some time; he is subtle. Although there is not much to ponder within the humor, Reynolds is able to underplay his moments just enough to make you notice, giving the jokes room to tell themselves.
This space also gives the supporting cast a chance to shine. Van Wilder is not another movie filled with homogeneously designed characters. In other teen movies, the characters are essentially interchangeable. One horny teenager is easily mistaken for the next. Van Wilder is the exception, creating a varied and ultimately more entertaining collective of collegiate cohorts. Kal Penn really hits his mark as the appropriately politically incorrect Taj Mahal Badalandabad. Taj comes to America in order to do things unmentionable in this review, but Penn is able to turn the pathetic exchange student into a comedic flashpoint.
Even though Van is easily the most likable man on the Coolidge campus, he does make enemies. Daniel Cosgrove plays Richard Bagg, the preppy incentive old money snot that is worried that Van is after his girl. Of course, he is right, but after seeing how Bagg treats his girlfriend Gwen, there is no sympathy for him whatsoever. Cosgrove is excellent at using his purebred screen presence to instill hate and loathing in the minds of the viewers. This inclusion of a plot is what separates Van Wilder from the rest of the teen schlock heap.
Van Wilder is not just a collection of crude sight gags and smutty nicknames. Sure, there is plenty of that in the movie, but there is something going on to keep the movie moving. Van Wilder is heartwarming in ways. Even though it relies on a number of current pop comedy clichés (sexual indiscretion, bodily fluids, Tara Reid) it is able to use it’s good nature to rise above the heap and become king of the Midterm Movie Mountain.
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder will be released nationwide on April 5.
Robert James Algeo can be reached at Nategray1@aol.com