Van Wilder, the smug party animal immortalized by Ryan Reynolds in a cheapo National Lampoon-branded comedy a few years ago, doesn't make so much as a cameo appearance in Van Wilder: The Rise Of Taj, but that didn't stop anyone from making it. In fact, the only remnants from the original movie are a golf cart, an English bulldog with abnormally large testicles, and Kal Penn's Taj Badalandabad, an awkward bookworm turned world-class poon-hound under Reynolds' tutelage. Not that it matters, because National Lampoon has been making the same slobs-vs.-snobs comedy for decades now, and continuity issues are a distant priority next to squeezing every last dime from the sullied Lampoon name. So long as there are horny, undiscriminating adolescents and actresses willing to take off their tops for scale, the brand lives on!
The good news, relatively speaking, is that Van Wilder: The Rise Of Taj is one of the few sequels that's superior to the original. This is almost entirely due to Penn's disarming screen presence, which captures every bit of Reynolds' self-confidence and swagger without making him seem too cool for the plebes. On a mission to unstuff the stuffed shirts at Camford University, a small British college of the highest academic esteem, Penn arrives to a cool greeting from the campus' snootiest social group, which treats his admission letter as a practical joke. Banished to "The Barn," a dilapidated off-campus house for other nerds and outcasts—including an Irish hooligan, a Cockney whore, a brainy doofus, and a mute who plays Xbox games all day—Penn vows to whip these dorks into shape and win a frat-wide competition.
The plot is Revenge Of The Nerds, right down to the hero's plot to steal the lead snob's fetching girlfriend (Lauren Cohan) from under his nose. To a relative degree, The Rise Of Taj is buoyed by the quality of its snob (Dan Percival, oozing blueblood entitlement) and its slobs, particularly the salty-tongued sexpot played by Holly Davidson, and Steven Rathman as a cheerfully naïve brainiac. And Penn, who probably didn't need this shoddy placeholder after the cult success of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle's, acquits himself with a gentle charisma that makes the crudity go down easy. Granted, it's still shit, but with a sweeter odor than usual.