Caddyshack 2. Rocky 5. Teen Wolf Too. All sequels that should have been left in the proverbial studio vault. And now, with the release of “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: Rise of Taj,” they have a new title among their ranks.
Instead of capturing the energetic freshness of its predecessor, “Rise of Taj” relied on recycled and predictable jokes to tell the story of the ridiculous Taj Mahal Badalandabad. Like a dry frat party, it would be best to just stay away from this one and try something else. Staring at a brick wall comes immediately to mind.
The film follows Van Wilder protégé Taj to Camford College in England, where he attempts to put his former mentor’s teachings into practice. But from here, the plot pretty much spirals into clichéd oblivion. Taj pursues the girlfriend of a rival frat leader while at the same time attempting to transform a group of social outcasts and help them win a college-wide competition. Sound familiar? Well, you probably saw the first “Van Wilder” (or “Revenge of the Nerds”), which utilized almost the exact same scheme. The first installment was not so earth-shattering that it warranted a clone — the copy and paste buttons shouldn’t be so tempting for a franchise that hasn’t produced anything worthwhile since “Vegas Vacation” ten years ago.
While the famed National Lampoon attempts to reconnect with its college fraternity roots (you may know a little film called “Animal House” from the late ’70s), it seems to have forgotten the cardinal rule of comedy: Be funny. Indian-American actor Kal Penn, star of the stoner favorite “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” provides a few witty quips — including a poetry recital composed entirely of American song titles — but most of the film’s humor is forced and stale. At one point during the movie he instructs students to throw their books out the window, but substitutes instead, “Ejaculate your books.” There’s nothing quite like shoving bad, MTV-style scripted comedy down your throat (no pun intended).
“Rise of Taj” moves awkwardly from innuendo to innuendo (you can expect to walk away with a completely new perception of the word “sword”). The film provides a Webster’s-like list of new names for the female reproductive organ — most of which, while admittedly clever, make you feel like you should have your mouth washed out with soap. Reminiscent of almost every other recent teen flick, “Rise of Taj” also manages to denigrate several groups with over-the-top stereotyping. Irish, Indian, and British people were all given their fair treatment of gross parody and predictable mislabeling.
From the start it’s clear that Penn, who at least buoys scenes to the point of tolerability, will receive little assistance from a no-name supporting cast. Regrettably, the film was even missing the formerly vivacious Ryan Reynolds, who played Van Wilder in the original but could not be bothered to show up for the sequel. The weight of the entire movie is too much for a burgeoning star like Penn to handle.
The movie takes on a cartoonish urgency at its end, as if the writers knew it was better to wrap up quickly than risk too many theater suicides. Needless to say, the conclusion is somewhat less than satisfying (like another topic referenced heavily in the movie). The movie does redeem itself slightly by remembering to include the lone requirement of an obtuse comedy: the one-liner spoken directly at the audience. At least Taj made everyone feel they were somehow included in his efforts, even if no one really wanted to be.
Very little humor actually endures the massacre that is the writing, directing and acting in this movie. Note to National Lampoon: Please refrain from subjecting us to a third chapter of this monotonous tale, and try doing something funny, or at least something worth the $10 ticket.
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: Rise of Taj
Dir: Mort Nathan