2002 saw the release of Van Wilder, which starred Ryan Reynolds as a perennial college party guy who has the run of Coolidge College and had been there for seven years. The film was funny and, while it didn’t do well at the box office, has become a cult classic on video. Four years later, a sequel Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj starring Kal Penn was released and bombed at the box office. A third film, Van Wilder: Freshman Year (which is actually a prequel), is being released direct to DVD.
Freshman Year is the story of how Van Wilder became the Coolidge College “hero” seen in the first film. This time Van is played by Jonathan Bennett. He enters Coolidge College ready to party and finds a campus that is being run with an iron fist by Dean Charles Reardon (Kurt Fuller). The dean was given a hard time by Van’s dad when they were in school together, so he has it out for Van.
Van isn’t going to let the dean and his army cadets (Steve Talley, Nic Nac) get in his way of loosening up the school and teaching them how to party and have a good time again. He also sets his sights on Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari) who at first wants nothing to do with him, but eventually sees Van’s point of view and joins his crusade.
Jonathan Bennett does his best to fill the shoes left by Ryan Reynolds but tries too hard to be him and even emulates his mannerisms and inflections throughout the film; he should have been himself and not “Reynolds lite.” Kristin Cavallari is believable as the hard-ass army cadet who Van wins over and decides to help him. Kurt Fuller once again is the jerk no one likes and plays the dean to perfection. The movie is unrated so there’s lots of gratuitous nudity, which isn’t a bad thing, but this type of film needs more than naked women to be successful.