December 7, 2006

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National Lampoon' Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (R)
Poor talented Kal Penn tries but fails to give any purpose to the watered-down sequel National Lampoon' Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, a movie whose very name speaks to its humor-be-damned onward-marketing approach to filmmaking.

Ryan Reynolds, the titular Wilder from the first movie, appears here only in a picture Taj (Penn) keeps next to his bed. Penn is a much better actor than Reynolds. Everything about this sequel must really burn him. I hope he doesn't develop an ulcer.

Taj, the Wilder protege from the first movie, now gets a chance to let his Ferris-Bueller-goes-to-college wings stretch when he heads to Not-Oxford in England as a graduate student. Once there, he finds that he was not admitted into the posh fraternity but is in fact the teaching assistant and resident advisor of the nerd society. Luckily, Taj doesn't let rich-kid racism get in the way of a plucky, can-do attitude. He decides to teach his nerds how to make the most out of life and be just as Abercrombie & Smug as Wilder was.

Looking to make good on his father' wish that he be a smoking hunk of Hindi stud-muffin, Taj attempts to woo Charlotte (Lauren Cohan), the rich girlfriend of his rich nemesis. Naturally, Taj realizes that he doesn't just want to get his curry in Charlotte' turkey pie, he' actually the gross-out comedy version of in love.

Perhaps if I had had tooth picks with which to prop open my eyelids I could have better taken in the half-baked little tale laid out before me and found a few threads of cleverness. Perhaps I would not have been slowly lulled into near coma by the melodic sounds of Penn floating in and out of his Apu-like accent. Perhaps all those jokes about the dog with big nuts would have tickled some small part of my funny bone. As it was, however, a good 80 percent of my energy during The Rise of Taj was spent on not falling asleep (which would have been easy to do in a completely empty theater wherein not even my laughter was present), entertained, as I was, even less by the movie than I am by the preshow movie trivia slides you'll still see at some theaters. The other 20 percent of my brain was occupied with feeling sorry for Kal Penn and trying to think of movies where he wouldn't have to embarrass himself in this way. He'd be a great best friend for the next Jack Black comedy, a good member of a Zach Brach ensemble.

There is exactly one laugh-out-loud joke in The Rise of Taj. During the big sword fight in the movie' last act (why a sword fight? doesn't matter), the snobby character throws aside body armor and fencing gear to grab actual skin-piercing swords. "Let' settle this the way my ancestors did it," he says. "You're going to exploit me economically?" Taj says.

There, I've just saved you $7.25. D-

Rated R for pervasive crude sexual content, some nudity (boobies) and language. Directed by Mort Nathan and written by David Drew Gallagher (from characters by Brent Goldberg and David Wagner), National Lampoon' Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj is about an hour and 35 minutes long and is distributed by MGM in wide release.

— Amy Diaz