Van Wilder – Party Liaison

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

VAN WILDER

6/10

aka National Lampoon’s Van Wilder; Van Wilder – Party Liaison

USA 2002 : Walt Becker : 92 mins

There’s something to offend just about everybody in Van Wilder – and it must be said, something to amuse everyone as well. But the early signs are far from promising, with strong, unwelcome echoes of dimwitted campus caper Slackers (“A Dewey Nicks Film”) as a title card solemnly informs us that this is “A Walt Becker Film”. We’re then plunged straight into a messy series of scatological gags that introduce us to college student Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds): party organiser, charity fund-raiser, incorrigible ladies’-man and, in the words of an awestruck fellow Coolidge College alumnus, “the raddest f*ckin’ dude alive!”

Though blessed with academic talents to go with his unbridled charisma, boyish looks and rangy, hunky frame, Van – in his seventh Coolidge year – has no interest in graduating. Until, that is, his businessman father (Tim Matheson) decides he’s had enough of bankrolling his son’s opulent lifestyle and pulls the funding plug. It’s a major crisis for Van, who also has to cope with the persistent attentions of college-paper journalist Gwen (Tara Reid) – her editor (Tom Everett Scott) is keen to run a series of articles on the Van Wilder phenomenon. After initial hiccups, an attraction grows between Van and Gwen – to the intense chagrin of Gwen’s boyfriend, obnoxious frat-president Richard (Daniel Cosgrove).

There’s little in Van Wilder that hasn’t been seen before – one sight-gag in which a character spins out of control at a roller-disco would have been rejected as old hat by Norman Wisdom or Jerry Lewis back in their 1950s slapstick prime. The sexier material, meanwhile, is familiar from raunchy teen comedies stretching back at least as far as 1978’s ‘seminal’ Animal House (in which Matheson played a character not a million miles away from the irrepressible Van himself), while the gross-out episodes are pure Farrelly/American Pie stuff.

Director Becker handles the various set-pieces with sufficient skill to outweigh the material’s basic familiarity – the highlight sees Richard and his loathsome frat-house pals munching on some gooey pies prepared by Van, unaware (until it’s just too late) that they’re snacking on gloppy semen ‘milked’ from the swollen gonads of Van’s pet bulldog.

Like all the most entertaining sequences in the film, this showstopper pivots on preppie-monster Richard – the film’s most successful comic creation, brought to vividly obnoxious life by Beverly Hills 90210 survivor Cosgrove. An insanely ambitious medical student, Richard’s vocabulary is amusingly packed with the terminology of his chosen profession, and his status as head of the campus’s most prestigious fraternity house allows scriptwriters Brent Goldberg and David T Wagner to come up with all kinds of inventively sadistic initiation rites for the wannabe-fratsters.

The title character, however, has to pretty much carry the movie – and while Reynolds exudes enough charm to pull off the task, director Becker should have kept a closer check on the moments when the performance veers into Jim Carrey impersonation. It’s distractingly tempting to speculate about what current cinema’s other Carrey-ish young star Seann William Scott might have done as Van, who’s essentially a hybrid of Scott’s party-hearty Stifler from American Pie series and Jason Schwartzman’s hyper-organised eternal-schoolboy Max from Rushmore.

After initial misgivings, this does turn out to be a surprisingly successful recipe – clocking in at a breezy hour and a half, Van Wilder certainly can’t be accused of overstaying its welcome. As is now customary with this genre, the end credits are accompanied by a series of very variable out-takes in which the actors crack up or forget their lines. Stick around: the last one (in which Cosgrove features prominently) is an absolute belter, cementing guilty-pleasure Van Wilder as the funniest American comedy since Dude, Where’s My Car?

18th September, 2002
(seen same day, UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

by Neil Young
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