The original was no classic — save, perhaps, in the opinion of select 11-year-old males — but you’d think it was a sacred text from the way “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj” replicates every major and many minor elements from the 2002 Ryan Reynolds starrer. The four-years-in-the-making, badly recycled (not to mention awful) sequel might stain the honor of the Lampoon label if it hadn’t already produced several even worse films. Few got actual theatrical release, however, which, in this case, should be brief.
In the first film, a decent theatrical and big home-release success, campus party king Van Wilder was a role model for many young students including Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn), an Indian exchange student desperate to experience the “pink taco” of interior American collegiate femininity. Now Taj is on his way to England for graduate studies, armed with self-confidence, party know-how, a bulldog (named Balzac), a golf cart and a bachelor-pad decor he inherited from Van. (How did all of this get cross the Atlantic? Don’t ask about that or any other number of sloppy script points.)
Taj is immediately spurned by the “privileged snotbags” of the Fox and Hounds, Camford U.’s sniffiest residence house. He’s shunted off to “The Barn,” a far-flung, falling-down dorm for “losers,” including Simon (Steven Rathman), who gets hit on the head a lot; belligerent Irish jock Seamus (Glen Barry); bespectacled nerd Gethin (Anthony Cozens); and Sadie (Holly Davidson), who has very large breasts. Naturally, Taj vows to turn this sorry lot’s fortunes around, even leading the Cock and Bulls (as he renames the Farm) to a seemingly impossible Hasting Awards victory.
Their principal nemesis in this pursuit is Pipp Everett (Daniel Percival), an Earl of Gray and the Fox & Hounds’ guiding aristocratic snob. His girlfriend is the beautiful Charlotte (Lauren Cohan), who happens to be Taj’s history teaching assistant and soon is wooed by Taj.
Just about every plot element in “Rise” is identical to that in “Van” the First. There’s even a reprise of that film’s showcase for involuntary human contact with dog sperm.
But if “Van Wilder” was formulaic but energetic and fitfully funny, this followup will only please the extremely undiscriminating with its moronic double entendres and by-the-numbers situations. Even the English setting is a misfire, since pic’s sensibility (and generic soundtracked rock songs) remains true to the “Animal House,” “Girls Gone Wild,” and “MTV Spring Break” notions of American campus life.
What passes for local color is characters saying “jolly good show” and student field trips to the Tower of London. It is no shock to discover pic was mostly shot in Romania.
Penn is a talented comic actor who was far better served in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” There’s not much he or any other cast member can do with this material. Same goes for sitcom vet, helmer Mort Nathan, although his sole prior bigscreen directorial effort was the equally execrable “Boat Trip.”
Still, the man principally to blame is David Gallagher, a former actor turned first-time scenarist whose work here has a philosophical upside: If a screenplay this wretched can get produced and released by a major studio, then anything really is possible!
Prod looks on the cheap side; tech aspects are passable. Surprisingly, pic does not sport the usual closing credit outtakes of performers cracking up during takes. Perhaps in this case the only cracking up they did was bursting into humiliated tears.