Paramount // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // July 14th, 2009
The man. The myth. The beginning.
What do you call a DVD review for a straight-to-DVD prequel to a film franchise nobody asked for in the first place? You've come to the right place to find out, my friend. You've come to the right place. Welcome to Van Wilder: Freshman Year.
Bad news for the Chugalug house! Crusty old Dean Bitterman has expelled them from campus, just as the President of the United States has arrived. So it's up to Corey and his unlikely ally, the Nerdlinger, to devise a bra bomb to...wait, no, hold on. I'm getting confused by a parody I saw on The Simpsons. Okay, here goes for real.
It's freshman year at Coolidge College and Van Wilder (Jonathan Bennett) is ready to party just like his old man back when he was a student there. To his dismay, the school is under the ironclad grip of an uptight Dean (Kurt Fuller) and all the girls have taken a vow of chastity. Embarking on an epic crusade of scoring with women and partying down, not to mention scoring with campus hottie Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari), Van Wilder must liberate his school from party dysfunction and sexual repression. No keg will be left untapped!
Soon, Van Wilder gets elected to the cabinet as Secretary of Partying Down, and -- no, wait, sorry, that was The Simpsons again. My bad.
Yikes...where to even begin with this one? Who exactly requested a prequel to the Van Wilder franchise? Heck, I didn't even know this was a franchise, but apparently it is: National Lampoon's Van Wilder beget Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, which then beget this prequel -- and a few films down the franchise line, Cain will slay Abel and free us from this mess.
Wonder why no National Lampoon prefix on this one? A fine question, but one we have no answer to. There's nothing particularly obnoxious about Van Wilder: Freshman Year to detract from the, err, good name of the franchise. It's just as stupid as all the films that preceded it. In fact, if you were to break out a clipboard:
National Lampoon Checklist:
* Drugs, specifically bongs
* Penis jokes
* Every sentence contains sexual innuendo
* Poop jokes
* Bad racial stereotypes, specifically Asian and African-American
* Stoner dude, preferably white with Jamacian accent
* If set at college, a crusty old dean
Check, check, checkity-check-check. If you've seen one drunken college frat film, you've seen them all. To a more alarming point, if you've seen one Van Wilder film, you've seen them all. Obviously, there is no Ryan Reynolds this time around, since he graduated to an actual film career, against all Vegas odds. Instead, we substitute Jonathan Bennett (of Mean Girls fame). All things considered, his performance is probably the most enjoyable part of the film, delivering his patter with exaggerated pantomime and facial contortions. His lady-in-waiting, Kristin Cavallari (The Hills), hits that adorable mix of innocence, hard-to-get, and (eventually) just downright trampiness.
Wait; hold on, one more for the checklist:
* Innocent heroine who plays hard-to-get in first two acts, but reverses position in third act and throws herself naked at hero
As for the rest of the film, it's a bore -- a profanity-laden, naked girl-toting, drug-laden, improbable bore. This is the exact same film that has been made again and again in the style of Animal House, and almost nothing has changed in the execution, style, plot, or comedic elements. Every stereotype is painfully played out, almost amateurishly executed; sex jokes become so redundant as to lose all meaning. Van Wilder shows up at the repressed college and tries to liberate it, much to the consternation of the crusty old dean, and outrageous pranks, parties, and wild reckless abandon ensue before the dean finally gets his comeuppance. A few scenes might get you almost considering a chuckle, but they pass before viewers are put into any real danger of being amused. You'd have to be really, really drunk or high to get much enjoyment out of this one.
As is increasingly common these days, the "unrated" moniker is a marketing term only, one laced with delicious irony when considering this film never had a theatrical release. The "theatrical" cut of the film on IMDb is 98 minutes long, which suggests the unrated version adds a whopping two minutes of footage back into the film -- you know, the one you never got to see before anyway. Ah, marketing. It's a special kind of evil.
Technical specs are decent for a straight-to-DVD film, with an anamorphic transfer featuring natural color balance, decent black levels, and reasonable detail and depth. Nothing jaw-dropping in fidelity, but there are no noticeable defects or compression issues to deter. The audio comes in Dolby 5.1 Surround, with a surprisingly energetic mix: strong bass, clear dialogue, and a punchy soundtrack (mostly punk-pop). Rear channels go virtually unused throughout, however.
As for extras, the best (and most irritating) feature commentary with director Harv Glazer and the cast, which is energetic, rowdy, and never once shuts up -- they laugh and scream and go wildly off on tangents, cursing more than the film. On the one hand, it adds nothing of redeeming value for the listener, a total audio mess of inside jokes and random buffoonery. On the other hand, it is heartening that the cast and crew really enjoyed making Van Wilder: Freshman Year and clearly had an amazing time shooting the film. We get a making-of featurette, "Creating The Legend: The Making Of Van Wilder: Freshman Year," and a whole bunch of tiny featurettes, "Going Balls Out: Colossus," "Coolidge College: Orientation Video," "Decatur," "Teacher's Pets," "Van's Party Supplies," and "Pranks 101," as well as a blooper reel. It's a fair assortment of features, but not much substance in them.
Bearing in mind that this is like the 700th crappy film that rips off Animal House and a prequel to a stupid National Lampoon film nobody is even going to rent on DVD, if you take out all the crude elements, the drug use, the nakedness, and the derivative plot points, the best parts of the film are Van Wilder trying to win over the affections of Kaitlin. It's clichéd, but there is some general sweetness here, something that almost resembles storytelling, provided you take twenty feet steps back and close one eye while squinting. Kinda...sorta looks like it, yeah.
Van Wilder: Freshman Year adds nothing to the genre it so liberally plagiarizes from. It is, at best, competent for a direct-to-DVD film, but so is every other film on the shelf at your local video store. Ask me for a compelling argument to suggest this title over dozens -- nay, hundreds -- of others, and I'd come up empty.
Oh, Chugalug House. You really showed Bitterman this time!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated