Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj: Unrated Edition
The plight of the underdog is something both the United States of America and cinema have long been attached to. When the original thirteen colonies declared their independence and adopted all available means to defy the British, it's not all that far removed (though perhaps with less alcohol involved) from the boys at Delta House extracting their revenge on Faber College. Too much of a stretch? Perhaps the middle ground would be how American cinema (from Spartacus to Star Wars) often paints its underdog heroes as American and the baddies as Brits (something subverted by Ridley Scott's Gladiator), while comedies have always identified themselves with the outsiders and the scrappers, the little tramps. But, by the 1980s, this comic identification with the underdog grew murky. With a film like Revenge of the Nerds, the geeks' victory over the football frat is almost an empty one in less than a decade, the nerds are more likely to acquire money and power (and thus women) anyway. Moreover, the nerds align themselves with a African American frat, which also serves to recognize the nerds as a minority group. And even more damning is Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which is a curious case of the youthful hero actually being the from the upper crust suburbs of Chicago, while the villain the vice principal sent to track him down little more than a civil servant. On the supplements of the latest DVD release, cast member Ben Stein recalls meeting George W. Bush and hearing the president recite lines from the film to him (if the POTUS relates to the underdog, then who's the, um overdog?). But perhaps it's not even so much that people want to be the underdog as much as not wanting to be the oppressive jerks which is why this formula still has its sway (and can still work; witness 2003's Old School), and as such, even a watered-down version can manage to deliver to an audience.
Such was the case with 2002's Van Wilder, and 2006 delivered a sequel in Mort Nathan's Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. And it makes an amusing leap: The underdogs are British. The story is that Taj Mahal Badalandabad (sole returning cast member Kal Penn) transfers to Camford University, his father's alma mater, in England. He thinks he'll be in the most prestigious frat house on campus but is quickly told to go to the geek house, where, without much effort, he will rally his squadron of nerds and outsiders to take on the opposing frat through the school's competition, which is sorta like the one in Nerds except with less sporting events and more academia. Along the way, Taj will find a nemesis in Pipp Everett, the Earl of Grey (Daniel Percival), and romance the Earl's lady away from him, that being Charlotte Higginson (Lauren Cohan). With another round of bulldog-semen jokes at the ready, Taj is a tried, true, and tired formula that delivers exactly what we might expect. The rogue group of nerds is anglicized (there's a Scottish character), but otherwise it's rather routine, and for an unrated version, shy about offering gratuities. But the underdog story still has a pull, which means it at least works on those merits if you don't mind watching the wheel being reinvented. Fox's DVD presents the MGM film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1. So many years down the line, it's hard to see the "unrated edition" as anything more than a marketing device. Extras include a "making-of" spot (9 min.), "On Set in Romania" (5 min.), seven deleted scenes (7 min.), a gag reel (4 min.), two music videos, and bonus trailers. Keep-case.