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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"Are you stalking me? Because that would be super."
DVD ReviewWatching National Lampoon’s Van Wilder with a critical eye is a lot like batting at a piñata with a feather. How do I know this? Because I, like an idiot, tried. The first time I viewed Van Wilder was as a lover of sophomoric college comedies and to be truthful, I enjoyed myself, though perhaps not as much as I'd expected. The second time I attempted to discern just how Van Wilder was flawed from a critical perspective and eventually I realized that the simple answer was, in fact, "in every way." This is a film that wallows in vulgarity and nudity, as well as stereotyping nearly every stock character into a humorous situation that really isn't all that funny, yet hey, I guess I kind of liked it.
Van Wilder (Reynolds) has been in school for the better part of a decade when his father (Matheson) decides that Van is in fact a bad investment and stops payment on the tuition check for the spring semester. Left only with his popularity and uncanny ability to throw a party, Van resorts to fundraising for his tuition in order to continue the lavish lifestyle he enjoys. When an attractive reporter named Gwen (Reid) comes calling on Van for a showcase piece in the school newspaper, he is immediately smitten, though her med school boyfriend strongly disapproves. Soon Van is fighting to stay in school while also trying to win over Gwen.
With a pair of winning performances from Tara Reid and Ryan Reynolds, there is a level of Van Wilder that yearns to rise above the material. Van is a sharply written character, and the script does get points for making him out as a decent guy rather than the standard for a film of this sort, yet he is placed in situations that seem illogical and exist only to push gross out humor to the next level. There are aspects that as a reviewer I did enjoy, including a romantic subplot that would be better off in a different comedy. The best moments in the film, including a very funny dinner date with Gwen's parents, are a showcase for Reynolds' charm and offer only a slight hint of what might have been. If Van Wilder was focused on straight humor as opposed to sight gags, there may well have been more praise for the film.
Just as Hollywood has mined the vaults for years for ideas there may well come a day where the inventiveness of new and outrageous gross out humor becomes nothing more than stale and repetitive; if Van Wilder is any indication, that day may be upon us. The humor never actually offended me, but as a reviewer I was occasionally nauseated at how far filmmakers seem to think they must go in order to get a laugh. From a gag involving a stripper with flatulence to an overly disturbing sequence involving pastry with a hidden surprise, these jokes never really add to the whole of the picture. Director Walt Becker does a decent enough job keeping the laughs coming, but often some simply don't work. At a length of just over an hour a half, I can understand that some of these scenes were added to pad the running time. But the question still remains: when will viewers finally reject gross out humor and wisely demanding something better for their dollar?
I praised the film for two simple reasons: Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid. These actors do such a terrific job with their roles that it is almost impossible to fault the film when you consider their performances. Reynolds lacks the gruffness of Belushi's Bluto, or even the overly slimy charm of Matheson's Otter, yet there is something about his character that seems positively winning. In nearly every scene, Reynolds' delivery is so perfect that it is a wonder he is not a bigger star. He certainly has a bright future and I can only hope that he finds a script worthy of his comic timing. Reid, who I have not enjoyed in other films—though her beauty lends something to nearly every film she has been in—finally does a the job here. She and Reynolds have such an unforced chemistry that many may find themselves longing for more scenes with just the two of them.
In the end, Van Wilder is a funny move for those who enjoy this brand humor. I certainly do and I will more than likely enjoy repeated viewings of the film, but there is no escaping that there are some sequences that seem out of place and exist only to elicit cheap laughs.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Van Wilder is, like the film itself, average. With a dull color palette, the film never really jumps off the screen as some of the best transfers do, but what is offered here is serviceable. Colors are nicely done with no bleeding, while black levels are deep and show no signs of grain. Sharpness and detail are fine, and I noticed no real pixelation throughout.
A mildly cropped full-frame version is also available.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for Van Wilder is concurrent with that of other comedy films. Dialogue is crisp and clear, while the wide collection of punk and rock music comes across nicely in the rear speakers to boost ambience. A very average mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Novocaine, Reservoir Dogs, Good Advice, Dune, and Glengarry Glen Ross.
4 TV Spots/Teasers
10 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
There is little to be found on this disc, aside from a very interesting set of menus. When prompted, the viewer can choose between censored and uncensored screens. The transitions in the latter from one sequence to another are accompanied by a topless transition by one of the female actors (the censored version has strategic black bars).
A collection of documentaries lead off the second disc and while they fail to be informative, they certainly provide ample laughs. First is Comedy Central's Reel Comedy: Van Wilder, an amusing look through the eyes of the characters as they recount the story of the film. I like this sort of promotional material, especially when they are this funny. A trio of spots from Burly TV are next, including a cooking show as well as a sort of modern day Candid Camera called Impostor. Movie Junky is an entertaining look at the making of the film with interviews with the cast.
Nine deleted scenes are featured and all are worthy of the cutting room floor, though two celebrity cameos are included: Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Dr. Joyce Brothers.The other scenes include either more nudity or gross out gags. There is a collection of outtakes that can be selected individually or played all at once and are quite funny, including an hysterical set of bloopers.
The remainder of extra material is largely promotional, including an opportunity to listen to brief clips of the songs found on the soundtrack as well as the video for Bouncing Off The Walls Again by Sugarcult. The teaser, green band, and red band trailers for Van Wilder are featured in nonanamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround, while a selection of trailers from other Artisan releases are also available. These include Novocaine, Reservoir Dogs, Good Advice, Dune, and Glengarry Glen Ross.There are three television spots along with a section of promotional artwork that could be seen on numerous college campuses this past spring. A collection of production notes, cast and crew information, and "The Van Wilder Files" (a series of text pages about the legend of Van) round out the extra features.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsBlessed with a two disc set, this DVD is sure to please fans of the film. From the original menus to a collection of special features that are funny (as opposed to technical), you could do a lot worse that Van Wilder, and you can certainly do a lot better.
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