The first "Van Wilder" (2002) rode the considerable charisma of lead Ryan Reynolds through a good-natured sex-and-school romp. A sequel may have sounded good on a spreadsheet, but a "Van Wilder" movie without Van Wilder (or the original's writers or director)? Isn't that like Kevin sans Britney or Destiny's Child without Beyonce?
"Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj" is just such a day without sunshine. The Big Man on Campus baton has been passed from Van to protege Taj (Kal Penn, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle"), who takes his newly acquired mojo to a student-teaching post in England. It is refreshing to see an Indian American protagonist in this kind of flick, especially because he's past his awkward stage and is essentially Van reincarnated.
So much for the good news.
The bad news comes in the form of credited writer David Drew Gallagher (his first produced screenplay), whose knuckles must be blanched from clutching the college-movie playbook, and director Mort Nathan ("Boat Trip"), who catches neither the tone nor the spirit of the original. To be fair, their task is analogous to taking over USC's football program after Pete Carroll has absconded to the NFL with everyone but the mascot. Still, to make a movie this charmless and uninspired takes a certain negligence that is rare among even the most cynical Hollywood moneymaking exercises.
Brace yourself for this mind-blowing plot: The losers revolt against the snobby rich guys. If only there were some kind of competition that could establish once and for all that the nerds are really the cool kids. Hmmm ...
The movie's fictional college is apparently the school of redundancy school ("You've got a competition to compete in!"), and no one bothered to make sense of the dialogue in general: "It's curtains for you," says the villain; "Good idea," says the hero, who then jumps on ... a hanging banner. But curtains are visible in the shot, so that's something.
Then there's one of the least interesting paintball scenes ever committed to celluloid, some truly awful fencing and a remarkable lack of chemistry among the performers.
But the film's incompetence is not limited to the writing, acting and directing. There are jarring jump cuts and continuity errors, and a laugh-out-loud eyeline mishap during a supposedly intimate conversation. One keeps expecting a boom mike to peek out.
"The Rise of Taj" is a faded mimeograph of the original, purple smudges obscuring anything funny that might have survived.
MPAA rating: R for pervasive crude sexual content, some nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In general release.