The National Lampoon, once a brand name above nearly all others in comedy, has become shorthand for pathetic frat boy humor; its latest installment is “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj.”
The Lampoon, a once great institution that gave us “Animal House” and Chevy Chase’s “Vacation” films, now regularly puts its name above the collegiate gross-out schlock of the month.
The first “Van Wilder,” released in 2002, revolved around Ryan Reynolds’ big man on campus. Now, his loyal assistant, Taj Badalandabad (Kal Penn), has matured into a leading man of his own on the campus of England’s (fictional) Camford University, where he’s a graduate student and teacher’s assistant.
While Taj hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps as a “Sultan of Sheets” at the prestigious Fox and Hounds fraternity, he’s denied entry and sent to the “Barn,” a run-down shack housing a small group of misfits.
Taj predictably enough inspires his household, turning them into the Cock and Bulls fraternity and challenging the snobbish, racist members of Fox and Hounds. Taj goes head to head with his rival (Daniel Percival) and steals his girl (Lauren Cohan).
But the plot (which recalls a less inspired “Old School”) is, of course, merely a forum for an endless parade of puns on the male anatomy, shots of women’s chests and parodies of the oddly prude elites of the college.
This is the sort of film that thinks calling a beer a “libation” is a form of wit.
Penn has proven himself a capable comedic talent in 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and has numerous projects on the horizon. Here, though, he forgets that no good comedian ever got any jokes by fashioning a polite, “cool” character.
Cohan may be the movie’s lone success. The America-born, England-raised actress — who had a small part in last year’s “Casanova” — is a beauty who passes through “Van Wilder” as gracefully as one can be expected to while delivering “swordsman” jokes.
You have to wonder why the filmmakers (Mort Nathan directs) transferred “Van Wilder” across the Atlantic. American universities in their chaos are certainly funnier than their British counterparts, whose stone halls are more befitting young wizards than bulldogs named Ballzac.
Adolescent boys will undoubtedly find their way to this “Van Wilder” sequel, which should tell Hollywood that if even this comedy can attract a meager audience, imagine what a funny movie could do. In the meantime, we can all patiently wait for the next Will Ferrell movie.