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MGM Studios DVD presents
Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (Unrated Edition) (2007)

Pip: Let's settle this the way my ancestors did, shall we?
Taj: You want to exploit me economically?

- Daniel Percival, Kal Penn

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: April 19, 2007

Stars: Kal Penn, Lauren Cohan
Other Stars: Daniel Percival, Glen Barry, Anthony Cozens
Director: Mort Nathan

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, adult situations, language)
Run Time: 01h:37m:00s
Release Date: March 27, 2007
UPC: 027616074331
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- BAB+ B-

DVD Review

It's far from clear that National Lampoon's Van Wilder required a sequel, especially one in which Ryan Reynold's Van Wilder character is nowhere to be seen. Instead, here his protégé Taj Taj Mahal Badalandabad from the first film takes center stage. Fortunately, what could have been a cheapie cash-in is saved (well, arguably so) by the presence of up-and-coming actor and one-half of Harold and Kumar, Kal Penn. With his dog, the appropriately named Balsac, in tow, Penn's Taj leaves the U.S. for jolly ol' England in order to claim his father's place at prestigious Camford University as a research assistant and legendary babe hound. Naturally, things don't go nearly as smoothly as he plans, but England does make a fine setting for the ensuing class warfare, a genre staple.

The single most important factor in whether or not a movie like this is going to work is the generosity of the main character. He's got to be a cad, without being a total jerkwad. It seems obvious enough, but he's gotta be likeable, and that's not always easy to pull off when he's also gotta be funny. American Pie's bad boy Stiffler couldn't carry a movie in the same way that Van Wilder could. So Rise of Taj goes the well-traveled Animal House route by making the leading man an underdog. Rejected from the snooty Fox and Hounds house in spite of his legacy status, Taj takes on the role of house mother at "The Barn", a dilapidated campus residence located in a swamp on the far side of a cemetery. The residents fill are, naturally, losers, outcasts, and nerds. Seamus is an angry, drunken soccer hooligan. Sadie has an over-the-top, incomprehensible cockney accent that fades when her favorite topic comes up...being, of course, sex, which she'll blithely discuss in graphic terms with anyone who'll listen. Gethin is a skinny, pasty nerd, and literal-minded Simon is hardly able to speak, in his perpetual video-game trance. After giving Taj the "not our kind" boot from the Fox and Hounds, "Pip" (Daniel Percival) humiliates Taj again in the presence of a girl, which of course means war. The Barn residents form a fraternity of their own, the Cock and Bulls, and enter themselves into competition for the schools premiere honor, the Hastings cup.

The British characters are all a little over the top, but it's a bit inspired and a nice change of pace to have an Indian-American protagonist with minimal stereotypical tics up against ridiculous white people. It would have been easy to go wild with Indian jokes, but the way in which the movie dances away from that type of material made it work for me. It's kind of missing the point of a movie like this, but Kal Penn is a genuinely charismatic actor. Dog poop/airplane sex/boob jokes aside, Penn is just plain fun to watch and carries the extremely thin plot on his shoulders. The other characters are fun, but there's very little here that's laugh-out-loud funny, and everything that happens is fairly predictable. Also, in spite of this whole "Unrated" business, the raunch is minimal, at least by the standards of modern college sex comedies. There's nothing here you haven't seen before, some of it in the other Van Wilder movie. It's not hilarious, and it's not particularly filthy (I'd be very surprised if this "Unrated" version is much different from the theatrical release), but I still rather enjoyed it. In fact, let me go completely out-on-a-limb here: Rise of Taj is almost smart in its own way. Or, at least, celebrates smartness in unexpected ways. Taj doesn't get the girl (Lauren Cohan) by merely one-upping Pip with nasty pranks, he does so by taking her along on a bus tour of during which he narrates the history of London's great landmarks, and later drags her stuffy students along to a paintball recreation of the Battle of Agincourt. Don't get me wrong, there are still copious amounts of dog ejaculate and the requisite beer-guzzling, but just as the movie smartly avoids making fun of Taj's ethnicity it also celebrates the power of brains and balls to take down the jerks and general snotbags of the world.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer is actually rather nice. Colors are bright and the overall image is sharp with a nice sense of depth.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 track is solid, even if the channels are fully utilized only sporadically. No major complaints, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
7 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag Reel
  2. Music Videos
Extras Review: The disc begins by playing three trailers, Turistas, Borat, and Rocky, which must be skipped to get to the main menu. Yeesh. Included on the special features section of the disc is a trailer for Grandma's Boy, though no Taj trailers are included.

Among the special features, there's a decent assortment, though none of it is particularly substantial. First is Union Jack-Offs: The Making of the Rise of Taj at about nine minutes. Most of the cast get face time, as do the oddly stolid director and writer David Drew Gallagher. A few behind-the-scenes clips, some chat about key scenes...light but not particularly insightful. Next? On Set in Romania: Kal Penn Tours "The Barn". Just as it sounds, Penn takes us on a tour of some of the films cost-efficient Bucharest sets. Also included are seven Deleted Scenes running just over seven minutes, watchable individually or via "Play All". Nothing that wasn't best left out of the finished movie.

Finally, two music videos are included: "Get Steady" by Johnny Lives! and "Heads Will Roll" by Marion Raven. Not sure what either of them really had to do with the movie, but the first video, at least, includes clips from the film.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A quick scan of the internet reveals that I'm the only person in America who liked this film, but enjoy it I did. As a sex comedy, it's not really rauncy or funny enough, but it does have a peculiar charm personified by leading man Kal Penn. It also smartly avoids going for the cheap racial jokes and instead lets Taj take sweet revenge on the overprivileged snots of the world. It's not rocket science, but good for a few chuckles. Van Wilder can step aside; I'll be rooting for Taj.

 


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