If I could meet the person who told actor Kal Penn that he was funny, and should pursue a career in comedies, I would ask this question: why him? Why this guy when they're so many hilarious stand-up comics who could knock a whiffle ball like a "Van Wilder" film out of the park. Bryan Singer had the right idea to cut out all of Penn's dialogue in last summer's "Superman Returns," but now we have to confront "The Rise of Taj." It's 90 minutes of pure Penn.
Heading to England to work as a residence advisor at Camden University, Taj Mahal Badalandbad (Kal Penn) is stuck at the loser dorm, in charge of the biggest social rejects around. Channeling the great work of his friend Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds wisely chose to pass on a cameo), Taj uses his people skills to build up his new fraternity, looking to upset the reign of the local snobs with his brand of cheeky monkey business.
If there was one film that didn't need a follow-up, "Van Wilder" would be near the top of that list. However, this is hardly a sequel. Forget the "2" in the title; this is purely a studio exploiting a brand name in a cost-saving manner.
As awful and mindless as the original was, it was famous for putting Ryan Reynolds on the map. His delirious and sweet-natured performance was the only saving grace in a truly wretched comedy. You remember how awful it was, right? The film with a scene that featured Van Wilder replacing éclair cream with dog semen before feeding it to his enemies? How could America forget.
Well, I know I tried, but "Rise of Taj" fastballs the horror right back to my brain.
It seems to me that to even try to mount a production without Reynolds is just insane. With the only redeeming quality gone, what's left to enjoy? That sums up the experience of watching "Taj" fairly succinctly.
The entire film is on Penn's shoulders, and if you've seen his work in "Wilder," you already know the one-joke nature of the Taj character. The script tries to wedge Taj into Van Wilderesque moments (including another with dog semen – a franchise calling card it seems), but Penn doesn't have that same impish spirit as Reynolds, and not even close to the same graceful comic timing. Penn basically has his exaggerated South Asian accent to hide behind (that is, when he can stay in it), and the promise of a million future DVD rentals to egg him on. I've yet to see actual comedic ability from this beloved stoner icon.
"Taj" runs through the expected collegiate battle basics, the nudity requirements, and the zero-to-hero dork metamorphosis character arcs. The British angle is refreshing to a certain degree, and the film's refrain from heading too deep into gross-out comedy waters genuinely shocked me. I mean, there are lewd jokes all over this production, but they appear to be muted on purpose. In an askew way, "Rise of Taj" is a better film than "Van Wilder," but when encountering cinematic crap on this level, it's hard to clearly distinguish the taste anymore.
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