Van Wilder might be starting his seventh year at Coolidge College, but graduation is the furthest thing from his mind. Armed with a personal assistant and a coterie of admirers, Van has reached the status of living legend on campus, throwing bashes that make geeks popular, raising money for charity and generally "inspiring the uninspired." But when Van's father refuses to pay any more of his son's tuition bills, Van turns party planning into a business in order to continue living in undergraduate bliss. As the cash begins to roll in, Van catches the eye of student journalist Gwen Pearson, who is determined to expose the truth about Van. What begins as a clash of wills, however, soon leads to unexpected romance as Van and Gwen both realize they have a lot to learn from each other. The only problem: Gwen's self-obsessed, frat house boyfriend, Richard, who's determined, at any cost, to put a stop to Van's rule as campus king.
"National Lampoon's Van Wilder" seems to have come by its possessive title after the fact, as a way of marketing what might otherwise seem an old-fashioned frat-house comedy. The title character, a frat-house grandee played by Ryan Reynolds, is presented as the son of Tim Matheson, who played one of the revelers in "Animal House." But this acorn has fallen a bit far from the tree. The director, Walt Becker, doesn't bring much to the table other than a sense of high spirits — a necessary but not sufficient condition for comedy. What's lacking is the sense of structure that might have made "Van Wilder" more than a meandering succession of random gags. Dave Kehr
2002-04-05 | Dave Kehr | Read the New York Times Review of National Lampoon's Van Wilder