Sometimes when it comes to prequels, they can be hit or miss. In the case of this prequel to the film that became Ryan Reynolds’ breakout role, it is actually a decent mixed bag that may need a few watches to actually enjoy it.
Van Wilder has just graduated from high school and while he had planned on going to Amsterdam with his father, he is forced to go solo due to his father’s business. Nevertheless, Van is excited about attending Coolidge College, which was his father’s alma mater. However, upon his arrival, Van learns the hard way that college isn’t like high school and at Coolidge, it has become a virtual military academy led by Dean Reardon, who has had a rivalry with Van’s father and plans to get rid of Van all in the name of association.
Van finds himself rooming with pothead Farley and Chinese exchange student Yu. Reardon, fearing that Van will break his rules, forces him and his roommates to join the school’s ROTC program. There, Van finds himself at odds with hothead Lt. Dirk Arnold and his cohort Corporal Benedict. To make things worse, Van finds himself falling head over heels for his ROT Commander, Kaitlin Hayes, an Army brat who just happens to be Dirk’s girlfriend. When the annual military games are coming up, Van decides the only way to escape Reardon’s grasp is to make a deal with him with the fate of Coolidge at hand.
First came the legend of Van Wilder in 2002. Then, Van’s protégé Taj got his own spin-off/sequel in 2006. However, the makers of the two films decided to make their next film about what Van Wilder’s first year at Coolidge was like and the idea of having the school as a military academy of sorts seems a bit farfetched, but for some reason, it is not completely bad all in part to the antics that made their previous films known.
This time, the younger Van Wilder is played by Jonathan Bennett, who will most likely (if not already) will be unfairly compared to Reynolds. However, there are plenty of puns coming from Wilder and this time, his roommates are a stoner and a stereotypical Chinese student with a very stereotypical name used in this brand of comedy. However, actors Nestor Aaron Absera and Jerry Shea are fun to watch as Van’s buddies with the DTV American Pie sequels’ Steve Talley now playing the love rival who gets the brunt of the antics in hotheaded military nut Dirk, following in the footsteps of Daniel Cosgrove’s Richard in the original and Daniel Percival’s Pip in the sequel. As for Kurt Fuller, his Reardon gets a memorable scene involving peanut butter and the return of Van’s dog Balzac.
Coming off her reality TV stints on Laguna Beach and its spin-off The Hills, Kristin Cavalleri has the chance to prove herself as an actress with the role of love interest Kaitlin. However, where Tara Reid’s Gwendolyn and Lauren Cohan’s Charlotte ooze that sensual side in the previous films, there seems to be something different with Kaitlin. Perhaps it’s because Kaitlin is the daughter of an Army sergeant, which allows her to be somewhat more disciplined than defiant, except when it comes to helping Van out in the climactic games.
Where Van Wilder is a cult classic and The Rise of Taj is a fun spinoff/sequel, Van Wilder: Freshman Year has a bit of a farfetched plot involving the school being a virtual military academy. However, the antics are the real stars of the film, yet Jonathan Bennett will be unfairly compared but does his best to emulate the legend of Reynolds…errr..Wilder.
WFG RATING: C+
A Paramount Famous/Tapestry Films Production. Director: Harv Glazer. Producers: Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy, and Andrew Panay. Writer: Todd McCullough; based on characters created by Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner. Cinematography: Shawn Maurer. Editing: Aden Bahadori, Suzanne Hines, and Mahi Rahgozar.
Cast: Jonathan Bennett, Kristin Cavallari, Kurt Fuller, Steve Talley, Nestor Aaron Absera, Nick Nicotero, Jerry Shea, Linden Ashby, Meredith Giangrande, Irene Keng, Mike Pniewski, Brett Rice.