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The Good Old, Bad Old Days

With its gross-out gags, 'Van Wilder' resurrects the slapstick antics of the 'Animal House' era.


I guess it all depends on when you turn 24. Once you pass that barrier, sight gags about bodily fluids and sphincter discharges begin to lose their--what is the word?--resonance. Still, the makers of such touchstones of gross-out-low-life-dirt-bag American slapstick as "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) and "Caddyshack" (1980) are pretty good about sending you on your way with enough awful memories and snappy insults to sustain you well past your first career humiliation.

"National Lampoon's Van Wilder" fulfills this mandate, but barely. Those 24-and-unders who are looking for their own "Caddyshack" to adopt as a generational signpost may have to keep looking, if only because they've probably become inured to the shock of seeing alcohol-induced vomit flying out of school bus windows. In these reined-in days of safe sex and bottled water, the knockabout excesses of "Animal House" now seem Elizabethan when compared with the uplift of a "Shallow Hal" or the mealy-mouthed sentimentality of "American Pie."

Maybe that's why, intermingled with the stench of secreted fluids of various kinds (and from various animals), there's an aura of golden-oldie nostalgia permeating this tale of an enterprising, laid-back trickster named Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) who's happily in his seventh year of undergraduate studies at mythical Coolidge College. Being in college is more than a journey to Van, it's a career. That is, until his rich and apparently absent-minded dad (Tim Matheson, playing father to the kind of hipster he played in "Animal House") decides to withhold his tuition payment.

Van must use all his charm, wit and mental agility to raise funds for his continued enrollment and to fend off a solemn student newspaper reporter (Tara Reid, delivering the minimum daily requirement of avidity) who's out to deflate his status as Coolidge's 800-pound party gorilla. Naturally, Van digs her blue eyes and wants nothing more than to steal her from the standard fraternity fascist-achiever Richard Bagg (Daniel Cosgrove) who wants to make her his trophy wife.

Roughhouse scatology is piled on like players in a rugby scrimmage. Van's supernaturally endowed bulldog figures prominently in one gag involving eclairs and Bagg's frat house. As someone who's at least 2-times- 24, I preferred the exchange in which Van's henchman Hutch (Teck Holmes) suggests medical attention may be needed to "fix" the dog. To which Van suavely replies, "That's up to him."

Reynolds delivers these and other lines well enough to make you want to see him in something that doesn't require cleaning up afterward.

MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, gross humor, language and some drug content. Times guidelines: Way too coarse for children. As for teens: You'd definitely prefer they didn't see it, but you may have a hard time stopping them.

Gene Seymour is a film critic for Newsday, a Tribune company.

'National Lampoon's Van Wilder'

Ryan Reynolds...Van Wilder

Tara Reid...Gwen Pearson

Tim Matheson...Vance Wilder Sr.

Teck Holmes...Hutch

Daniel Cosgrove...Richard Bagg

Artisan Entertainment and Myriad Pictures present, in association with In-Motion AG and WMF V, a Tapestry Films production, released by Artisan. Director Walt Becker. Producer Robert L. Levy, Peter J. Abrams, Andrew Panay, Jonathon Komack-Martin. Screenplay by Brent Goldberg & David T. Wagner. Cinematographer James Bagdonas. Editor Dennis M. Hill. Costume designer Alexis Scott. Music supervisor Christopher Violette. Production designer Rachel Kamerman. Art director William Durrell. Set decorator Suzan Katcher. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

In general release.

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