Dane Cook and Kal Penn now have something in common – neither of them are Ryan Reynolds. This is evidenced by two very recent comedies that starred the aforementioned Reynolds wannabes. Dane Cook tried his darndest to channel Reynolds’ charm in this summer’s Employee of the Month, and failed miserably. And now Penn has returned as Van Wilder’s sidekick Taj in an attempt to cash in on a mildly successful franchise and fill the shoes of the big man. Something tells me his fate will be much the same.
For those who loved the first Van Wilder, this one may be for you. In fact, it follows much of the same storyline. In this version, though, we see Taj as he leaves Coolidge College and travels to Camford University in England. There he encounters a similar situation to Van’s in the first film. He runs into a selective fraternity, known as the Fox and Hounds, who turn out to be a group of uptight bullies the likes that we haven’t seen since, well, the first flick. He also meets a love interest (Lauren Cohan), who is, not surprisingly, attached to the leader of said fraternity (Daniel Percival). After a cruel joke by the Fox and Hounds guys, Taj ends up at a house on campus known as “The Barn,” where rejects and losers exist in solitude. There he meets his new friends and finds his ultimate challenge – giving them some hope and showing them that they belong.
The rest is all about Taj’s journey with his newfound friends up the social ladder and on to compete for the fraternal “cup” and become the most beloved house on campus. It is a journey filled with cheap humor, mostly at the expense of someone’s genitalia or having to do with dog semen. Add in some gratuitous breast shots, a ton of sexual innuendo, and some anti-establishment attitude and you've got the gist of this film. The story, of course, is nothing new – in fact it suffers greatly from cliché diarrhea, the constant display of college humor clichés.
Thankfully the story moves fast, and there is a small amount of humor delivered in the performance of Kal Penn. Penn was very funny in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and nearly stole the show in the first Wilder, but those roles gave him another talent to balance him out. With no Ryan Reynolds or John Cho to bail him out here, he flounders as the lead.
The rest of the cast seems to just fill in or detract from the film. Lauren Cohan, who plays Taj’s love interest Charlotte, is charming and very beautiful but the onscreen chemistry is just not there with Penn – something all too common in films like this. To add to that, Daniel Percival is absolutely annoying as Pipp, the cocky head douchebag of the Fox and Hounds frat. He takes the annoying, metrosexual iconic college bad guy to a whole new level – off the deep end.
In the end there isn’t much here to salvage The Rise of Taj. If you want to see Van Wilder, see Van Wilder. If you want to see the Van Wilder re-mix, sans Ryan Reynolds and entertainment value – then feel free to give this one a shot. Just don’t ever say that I didn’t warn you.
Release Date: December 1, 2006