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Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/14/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/12/2009

This may be slightly off-topic, but I want to talk about Ryan Reynolds. Due to remote control issues (let's say), I used to watch this show on Nickelodeon called Fifteen, which was a teenaged soap opera from Canada. This was kid on their named Billy who was played by an actor named Ryan Reynolds. Billy was a d*%#! I couldn't stand him. When Reynolds got older and started to get real acting jobs, I couldn't believe it. Then I saw Van Wilder and my opinion changed. While the movie was incredibly lightweight, in the end it was better than it had any right to be due to Reynolds' performance. Sure, he was channeling Chevy Chase, but it was funny. The movie was a minor theatrical hit and really took off on home video. Because of this, we got the Reynolds-less (and Van Wilder-less) sequel, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, which was awful. Apparently, the powers-that-be didn't learn their lesson, as we now get another Reynolds-less sequel, Van Wilder: Freshman Year.

Van Wilder: Freshman Year opens with Van Wilder (now played by Jonathan Bennett) graduating from high school. He had hoped to visit Amsterdam with his father (Linden Ashby), but he's called away on business. When we next see Van, he's beginning his first semester at Coolidge College, where all of the Wilder's have attended (there's even a building named in their honor). He immediately meets Dean Reardon (Kurt Fuller), a military man who hates Van's father. After their unpleasant exchange, Van is shocked to learn that Reardon has a puritanical grip on Coolidge, where there are no parties and no drinking. After remodeling his dorm room and meeting his roommate, Farley (Nestor Aaron Absera), Van goes on a mission to change the environment at Coolidge, but this rubs Reardon the wrong way. Van is forced to join the ROTC (is that real?), where he meets Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari) and her boyfriend, Dirk (Steve Talley). Van is immediately attracted to Kaitlin and makes it her mission to save Coolidge from itself and woo Kaitlin.

Going into Van Wilder: Freshman Year, I expected nothing from the film. I was surprised to find that it was actually a little better than Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. Having said that, it's still a terrible movie...and not just because it's trying so hard to be a carbon-copy of the first film. The Rise of Taj may have been a stinker, but at least it tried to do something different, by shifting the focus away from Van and moving the action to Britain. Van Wilder: Freshman Year is nearly identical to the first film, save for the fact that instead of resisting the idea of leaving college, Van has just arrived. Let's go through the checklist: Pot-smoking roommate? Check; Foreign friend with strong accent? Check?; Uptight girl who finds herself strangely attracted to Van? Check; Uptight girl's jerky boyfriend? Check; and Evil administration for Van to fight? Check. Every college film is compared to Animal House and this movie decides to up the copycat ante by having the villains be in the ROTC, just as in that classic movie. The result is something which never offers one iota of originality.

And then we have the Van Wilder character himself and Jonathan Bennett's performance. As mentioned above, Ryan Reynolds was clearly emulating Chevy Chase in Van Wilder and that's fine, because, if you're going to steal, steal from the best. Reynolds have rather small eyes, so his comedic move is to make them bigger to emphasize a joke. Bennett attempts to copy this in his performance, but his eyes are already normal size, so when he gets all wide-eyed, it looks as if there is something wrong with him. Bennett is clearly trying to act like Reynolds here, but most of the time, he comes off sounding like Jim Carrey. I thought that Bennett was serviceable in his role in Mean Girls, and maybe he should stick to those parts. As for Van Wilder, in the original film, he was a spoiled rich boy who had mastered the good life and wanted to spread joy to others. Ostensibly, that's what is happening here, but whereas Van helped to throw parties in the first film, this Van Wilder just seems to be about pranks.

I guess that college films, with their parties and T & A, will always be popular, but they may be the most hit or miss genre out there. For every Animal House or P.C.U., we get a turd like College or a non-entity like Accepted. Van Wilder: Freshman Year is certainly at the lower end of the spectrum, as it doesn't seem to want to impress us in the any way. There are a few humorous sight gags, but otherwise, this movie should be booted off campus.

Van Wilder: Freshman Year needs to have its eyebrows trimmed on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, especially reds and yellows, and the picture is never overly dark or bright. The framing looks good and artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track delivers mild stereo effects during crowd scenes, but the party scenes and finale bring us some acceptable surround sound effects, as well as a few notable bass tones. The in-film music sounds especially good.

For a direct-to-video sequel, Van Wilder: Freshman Year has a surprising number of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Harv Glazer and actors Nic Nac, Steve Talley, Jonathan Bennet, and Kristin Cavallari. This is an OK commentary, but it's one of those where the speakers are clearly having a better time than we are. I did appreciate Cavallari's apparently honest comments during some of the more risque scenes in the film. "Creating the Legend: The Making of Van Wilder: Freshman Year" (18 minutes) is a fairly detailed making-of which contains comments from the cast and filmmakers, as well as a worth of on-set footage. The piece looks at the actors and characters, as well as the production. "Going Balls Out: Colossus" (3 minutes) is a bizarre little piece which looks at the canine star of the film. "Coolidge College: Orientation Video" (3 minutes) wants to be a faux introduction to the school, but it's only a series of unfunny comments from the cast. "Decatur" (9 minutes) is a spoof of Cavallari's show Laguna Beach, but it's set in Decatur, Georgia where the movie was shot. This is actually more entertaining than the movie. "Teacher's Pets" (3 minutes) is an odd montage of the women in the film. The DVD has a 7-minute blooper reel. "Van's Party Supplies" (4 minutes) is essentially an interview with the poor soul who had to supply all of the marital aids for the film. "Pranks 101" (4 minutes) has the cast making unfunny comments about practical jokes.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long