I’m dropping the additional appellation of ownership
bestowed upon National Lampoon, because I can’t for the life of me figure out
what the hell that really means these days. That leaves us with just Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, a movie
whose title references a character which is not at all in the actual film — perhaps
Penned by David Drew Gallagher (obviously preserving his
prerogative to switch or otherwise condense his name on future credited projects)
and directed by Mort Nathan (a former Golden Girls scribe and, ignominiously
enough, the writer-director behind Boat
Trip), the film is a down-market blend of pretty much exactly the sort of set
piece comedy and very occasional flashing of boobs that one would expect, with
a few moments of glancing amusement thrown in courtesy of some of the personalities.
The film got crucified critically (no surprise), and it washed out at the box
office, where it grossed only $4.2 million to its predecessor’s $21.3 million.
In reality, though, it’s not that bad.
It’s just a slightly-below-average doofus comedy for randy pubescent guys.
If it’s no great shock, it certainly still bears mentioning
that The Rise of Taj sorely misses
the droll presence of original star Ryan Reynolds, who can take a fairly pedestrian
line reading and, through sheer force of will, bend it into something funny.
What we’re left with in the front-and-centering of Kal Penn’s empowered supporting
character from the first film is a genial guide who slogs determinedly through
an overly pat narrative.
Having learned the ways of women from his legendary mentor,
Taj Badalandabad (Penn, above right) sets out for
degree in something or other. After having the rug of membership pulled from
under him at the snooty, elitist Fox & Hounds fraternity by sexually
compensating rich guy baddie Pip Everett (Dan Percival), Taj sets up shop at
the Cock & Bulls, a haven for misfits and losers. There’s young Irish drunk
Seamus (Glen Barry), silent Simon (Steve Rathman) and nerdy Gethin (Anthony
Cozens), who picked Camford because it offered “the highest nerd per willing
chick ratio” of any nearby university. Then there’s Sadie (Holly Davidson,
above left), a sexually forward tart whose inexplicably salty language (including talk of “a good poke in the low whiskers”) provides
the movie with a bit of spark.
Taj spars with and eventually falls for his junior faculty supervisor,
Charlotte Higginson (Lauren Cohan,
a sort of English Sophia Bush), who also happens to be Pip’s girlfriend. Balsac
the bulldog comes along (eventually literally, as it turns out) from the first
movie, and all of this feeds into a competition, naturally, for the Hastings
Cup — which rewards fraternities through a points system for athletic, academic
and social service project accomplishments. Lessons of self-respect are
eventually imparted, along with plenty of humiliation, ethnic lingo (goron,
raji, beta and haji) and referential bits nipped from other flicks like The Mask of Zorro and Dead Poets Society.
Anchored by an English language 5.1 Dolby surround sound
audio track, The Rise of Taj also
comes with a Spanish language surround sound track, and optional English and
Spanish subtitles. A nice slate of bonus materials complements a DVD whose plastic
Amray case comes with a winkingly saucy half-O-ring that gives the impression of
Taj standing between two nude cover girls. (Pull it down and they’re actually
sporting bikinis.) A three-and-a-half-minute gag reel finds the cast breaking
each other up, and Penn self-deprecatingly criticizing his ability to maintain his
accent. Nine minutes of cast and crew interviews comprise a special making-of
featurette, which solves the mystery of Sadie’s hardened nipples during a
beer-chugging scene (peanut halves stand in nicely) and also devotes time to
Balsac the dog’s prosthetic balls.
Penn, meanwhile, gives viewers a four-minute set tour in
Bucharest (a last-minute production stand-in when budget overruns forced a
split shoot between Romania and the United Kingdom), during which the translation
for “director” in the native tongue is revealed to be “regizor.” Music videos
“Get Steady” and “Heads Will Roll” are also included, and a collection of deleted scenes and an assortment of
other trailers round out this release. To purchase the film, click here. C- (Movie) B (Disc)