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DVD: College life was never Wilder

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 22, 2002

National Lampoon's Van Wilder (unrated 2-disc set)

DVD players should be standard equipment in college fraternity houses by now, and it's a good bet that National Lampoon's Van Wilder will be rerun more times than Scooby-Doo.

Artisan Home Entertainment thinks so, devoting two discs to a movie that theaters dropped faster than a calculus course.

Van Wilder is a direct, derelict descendant of National Lampoon's greatest movie success, 1978's Animal House. Times have changed and morality with them. Lower your expectations to the vicinity of a crotch, and it's a fairly funny flick.

Ryan Reynolds plays the title role, a 7-year Coolidge College student idolized by classmates for an uncanny ability to smarm his way out of anything and still throw great parties. Van is the next generation of glad-handing Eric "Otter" Stratton, played by Tim Matheson in Animal House, who effectively passes the torch to Reynolds in a small role as Van's father. Reynolds looks like a choir boy and schemes like the devil, exuding the kind of insolent cool that real-life college students could never match but will irritate someone by trying.

The plot is meaningless: Van's father is tired of paying his son's tuition, so Van arranges moneymakers such as topless tutors to cover the tab and stay on campus. Tara Reid (American Pie) plays a college newspaper reporter assigned to profile this party animal, if she can dodge his advances. It's easy to guess what will happen, but how it happens is shock humor that might make the Farrelly brothers flinch.

The same irreverence carries over to the DVD production, with an interactive menu hosted by a shapely woman named Naomi ("I moan" spelled backward, we're reminded). Click the right buttons and Naomi flashes her breasts or dances in a wet T shirt. Disc one contains the movie in widescreen and full-screen formats; disc two includes the bonus features.

Most of the extras are standard stuff: a dozen outtakes showing what a good time everyone had making the movie, nine deservedly deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, poster art, production notes, a theme-song music video and Comedy Central's featurette on the making of Van Wilder.

Skip that stale material and head directly to Burly Bear, an Internet-based streaming video network with programming aimed at college-age tastes. Reynolds, Reid and the band Sugarcult are guests on Half Baked, a cooking show where the recipe sounds more appetizing than the dish's name, Hangdown Stankies. Cast members appear on Imposters, a reality game show pulling pranks on unsuspecting people, then Movie Junky, where a host interviews Reynolds and Reid.

Although production values are low by Hollywood standards, Burly Bear's underground charisma -- MTV without commercialism -- is a minor revelation. Smartly done poor taste hasn't changed; it just got Wilder.

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