'Van Wilder: Freshman Year - Unrated'
(Jonathan Bennett, Linden Ashby, Kurt Fuller, et al / DVD / NR / 2009 / Paramount)
Overview: The long-awaited story of the legendary party animalís uproarious introduction to Coolidge College is finally here, revealing for the first time his rise to become the man, the myth ... the seven-year college senior!
DVD Verdict: Van Wilder wanted to be a one-man reinvention of the college comedy for a new generation. It wanted to be an Animal House in its own right. Hell, it would've settled for the attention of Old School. It got none of these. Instead it drifted off to the side and only ever gets mention for one reason: Ryan Reynolds.
There may be plenty of familiar faces crowding around his on the screen, but it was the charms of Reynolds that made Van Wilder work even a little. Then the sequel ditched Ryan Reynolds but still managed to hold onto a respectable up-and-comer Kal Penn, who had established himself as a comic figurehead in his own right thanks to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Thus, you might think that with the third Van Wilder movie they would have latched on to a similarly rising star in the comedy world to lead the cast - but alas, they fell short.
'Van Wilder: Freshman Year' finds Jonathan Bennett reprising Reynolds' titular role but unable to fill the shoes - which weren't all that large to begin with. As Van, Reynolds oozed charm and humility in the way he's become known for. Bennett makes obvious attempts to recreate his predecessor's mannerisms but to no avail. This is one of those unfortunate instances where, in attempting to imitate the original mannerisms and speech patterns of the star who originally embodied the character, Jonathan's attempts at mimicking Reynolds make it worse than if he'd taken it in his own direction. But the fault isn't entirely his own.
The writers force him into that unfairly narrow box from the first moments of the film where Van is revealed to already be at the top of his schmoozing game. Instead of being allowed to grow from an average freshman into a silver-tongued, seven-year-bound college man, Bennett has to be Reynolds with no time for any other exploration of the character. Let's think about this. Van Wilder was in college for about seven years since he graduates at the end of the original and there's some line thrown in there as to him being there for 6-7 years.
You could make an argument that it was his ability to be a ladies' man from day one that would make the college atmosphere a place he'd never want to leave - or you could say that it was his transformation into a ladies' man while at college that would make him afraid to leave lest he lose control of the persona he's built since freshman year. The latter assumes Van Wilder entered college like any other teenager and blossomed into the alpha male slacker he appears as in the original film; the former explanation stunts any need for growth in the character and makes any prequels pointless. [AMW] This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Commentary with Director Harv Glazer and cast
Creating the Legend: The Making of Van Wilder: Freshman Year
Going Balls Out: Colossus
Coolidge College: Orientation Video
Vanís Party Supplies (unrated)
Pranks 101 (unrated)