Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj" is a movie we can pretty much review based on its title alone. The "National Lampoon" part means it will be awful, as everything released under that label since "Christmas Vacation" (in 1989!) has totally blown. The fact that it's a sequel to 2002's "Van Wilder" is another gloomy sign, since sequels to bad movies are usually just as bad, if not worse. And "The Rise of Taj" hints that this sequel is focusing on a minor character from the first movie -- another harbinger of doom. (Imagine "Superman II: The Adventures of Jimmy Olsen" or "Toy Story II: The Wrath of Little Bo Peep.")
Sure enough, "The Rise of Taj" is worthless, a completely desperate and mindless exercise in juvenility. I was a little surprised, though, at how lackadaisical it is. It's listless and lethargic. You can usually count on these things to at least be lively and madcap, if not actually entertaining. But this one goes for long stretches without even TRYING to be funny, apparently content to let its half-baked characters wander around unsupervised while the audience waits impatiently for the next sperm joke.
Taj (Kal Penn), an Indian-American student, was a protege of supreme slacker Van Wilder back at Coolidge College in the first "Van Wilder" film. Van (played by Ryan Reynolds in the original) does not appear in the sequel, but his wisdom is often referred to. Taj is now a grad student at England's Camford University, where he's been made R.A. at a ramshackle residence hall known as the Barn. There are just four students under his tutelage: Seamus (Glen Barry) the angry Irish kid, Gethin (Anthony Cozens) the nerd, Simon (Steven Rathman) the silent video-gamer, and Sadie (Holly Davidson) the cockney tramp. They are all desperately in need of help in becoming cool and confident, so it's Van Wilder to the rescue! Er, Van Wilder, as learned and now repeated by Taj!
There's a snooty fraternity called the Fox & Hounds, led by smarmy jerk Pipp Everett (Daniel Percival), and they intend to humiliate Taj's house in the school-wide Hastings Cup competition. Wouldn't you know it, Pipp's girlfriend, Charlotte (Lauren Cohan), starts to fall for Taj, which makes the rivalry even more fierce. And wouldn't you know it, Taj has a few tricks up his sleeve to cut those pompous Fox & Hound twits down to size!! Ha-ha!
The film was directed by Mort Nathan, a hack writer whose only prior directing credit was -- shudder -- "Boat Trip." Surely no person who endured that disaster can enter "The Rise of Taj" without trepidation. He did not write "The Rise of Taj," however; those honors went to one Drew David Gallagher, a sometime-actor with no previous writing experience who evidently penned this screenplay as part of a contest to see how many euphemisms he could think of for female genitalia. (Answer: more than a dozen, but I lost count.)
I laughed not once during the film. I may have winced audibly once or twice, though, particularly during the scene (ripped off from the first "Van Wilder") in which a dog's sexual behavior is graphically depicted. That's the one moment that actually pushes the envelope. The rest of the movie just draws pictures of boobies on the envelope and tries to pass it off as comedy.