National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj shares something in common with another recent equally unnecessary sequel Big Momma's House 2: Its title is an absolute misnomer since Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is nowhere to be seen in his own sequel--just like Big Momma’s house in its sequel. Ah but the title of the latest National Lampoon installment is still the movie’s most intelligible facet. Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn) has moved on from being Van’s beleaguered bumbling assistant and is now off to England’s prestigious Camford University to continue his education. He arrives on campus thinking he’s been accepted to an elite fraternity only to be derisively turned down by uptight and arrogant Pipp (Daniel Percival). He’s relegated to “The Barn ” the campus loser dwelling and vows to turn its misfits into winners so he can not only get back at Pipp but also to steal his girlfriend Charlotte (Lauren Cohan). Despite his best efforts to prove otherwise Kal Penn is a talented actor’s actor. He has sold his soul for a few million bucks and to stoner frat-dude fans thanks to the Van Wilder movies and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and its planned 2008 sequel but he has a true thespian’s pedigree. His future is rich with bigger and better roles (especially March’s The Namesake his first dramatic lead). His talent is visible and audible in Taj but so at times is his empty soul like when you can occasionally hear the nuances in his faux-Indian accent. Penn still remains the only reason to watch the movie aside from occasional breast flashes (courtesy of a curvaceous Holly Davidson Sadie Frost’s sister) and he should keep the predominantly immature contingency satisfied. The incredibly beautiful Cohan who had a small part in Casanova shows some promise not to mention far too much class for this movie. But sometimes a National Lampoon movie is the best vehicle for a beautiful young actress to break through into the mainstream. Where to begin on a movie’s flaws that are so vast they’re like grains of sand on a beach. Mercy is reserved for directors who actually try for something different but wind up failing miserably; then there’s Taj’s Mort Nathan who literally tries to be the same (as college comedies of years past)--but winds up failing miserably. Nathan’s only other movie the Cuba Gooding career-ender Boat Trip will follow him around wherever he may descend but his latest offering just barely tops that one. The hopefully ashamed writer freshman David Drew Gallagher is also in need of a serious hazing after this effort. He steals the playbook from movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Old School but truly cannot manage a single genuine laugh. The director and writer together though are a veritable calamity and the movie’s lone joke. Their combined work is uneven unlike ever before--even for a movie that needn’t worry about production blunders because of its fan base. Every time there is an almost maudlin moment of tenderness the duo further hammer the nail in their coffin--that is until Nathan’s next National Lampoon movie (2008’s Bag Boy).
Queen Latifah and Steve Martin's romantic jailbreak comedy Bringing Down the House remained undefeated at the box office for a third week in a row, locking up a hefty $16.2 million* despite the arrival of four new wide releases.
Bringing Down the House defended its No. 1 title against this week's most threatening competitor, the supernatural thriller Dreamcatcher. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher debuted in second place with a down-to-earth $15.3 million.
The 'tween spy pic Agent Cody Banks dropped a notch to third place with $9.3 million, while the new flight attendant comedy View From the Top premiered in fourth place with a turbulent $7.5 million. The actioner The Hunted rounded out the Top Five with $6.5 million.
The new animated feature Piglet's Big Movie failed to see big profits with a tiny $6.1 million take, landing it in seventh place. The week's other new release, the comedy Boat Trip, shipwrecked into tenth place with choppy $3.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Bringing Down the House won the box office crown for the third week in a row with an ESTIMATED $16.2 million at 2,871 theaters (+70 theaters). Its $5,643 per theater average was the highest of this week's top ten grossing films. Its cume is approximately $83.4 million, heading towards the $100 million mark.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
Warner Bros.' R-rated supernatural thriller Dreamcatcher debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $15.3 million at 2,945 theaters with an impressive $5,197 per theater average.
The film, based on the Stephen King novel, revolves around four childhood friends bonded beyond friendship by telepathy--a power they must use stop an alien invasion.
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the film stars Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Donnie Wahlberg.
MGM's PG-rated Agent Cody Banks fell a notch to No. 3 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.3 million at 3,369 theaters (unchanged), with a $2,760 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by Harald Zwart, it stars Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff and Angie Harmon.
Miramax's PG-13 rated airline comedy View From the Top opened in fourth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 2,508 theaters, with a $3,016 per theater average.
The film focuses on a girl from a Nevada trailer park who sets her sights on becoming a flight attendant.
Directed by Bruno Barreto, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelly Preston and Christina Applegate.
Paramount Pictures' R-rated actioner The Hunted dropped two places to fifth in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.5 million at 2,517 (+1 theater), with an $2,606 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $23.4 million.
Directed by William Friedkin, it stars Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro and Connie Nielsen.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
In its 13th week of release, Miramax's PG-13 rated musical Chicago continued its mainstay in the Top Ten, dropping from fifth to sixth place with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-12%) at 2,565 theaters (-35 theaters, $2.434 per theater). Its cume is approximately $134 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Buena Vista's G rated animated feature Piglet's Big Movie premiered in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million at 2,084 theaters, with a $2,927 per theater average.
In the film, young Piglet is told he is too small to help the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood begin a honey harvest. When he disappears, his pals Eeyore, Rabbit, Tigger, Roo and Winnie the Pooh must use Piglet's scrapbook as a map to find him.
Directed by Francis Glebas, it features the voices of John Fiedler, James Cummings and Andre Stojka.
Warner Bros.' R rated war actioner Tears of the Sun fell from fourth to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-48%) at 2810 theaters (-163 theaters) with a $5,785 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $37.9 million.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, it stars Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci.
DreamWork's R rated buddy comedy Old School dropped from sixth place to No. 8 in its fifth week of release with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-40%) at 2,033 theaters (-419 theaters) with a $1,968 per theater average. Its cume is approximately 50.8 million.
Directed by Todd Phillips, it stars Luke Wilson, Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Artisan Entertainment's R-rated comedy Boat Trip, which debuted with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million at 1,714 theaters, with a $2,159 per theater average.
The film follows two dimwitted straight guys who set sail on a Caribbean cruise looking for love--but find out too late that they have been booked on a gay cruise.
Directed by Mort Nathan, the film stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Horatio Sanz.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $83.9 million, down 7.62 percent from last week when they totaled $90.8 million.
The Top 12 were also down 29.01 percent from last year when they totaled $118.2 million.
Last year, New Line's R rated Blade II debuted at the top of the box office with $32.5 million at 2,707 theaters ($12,016 per theater); Fox's PG rated Ice Age came in second with $30 million at 3,345 theaters ($8,986 per theater); and Universal's PG rated special edition re-release of E.T. The Extraterrestrial debuted in third with $14.2 million at 3,007 theaters ($4,730 per theater).
After wrecking things with his fiancée Felicia (Vivica A. Fox) Jerry (Cuba Gooding Jr) decides to book a cruise with his best friend Nick (Horatio Sanz) to find love and romance on the high seas. But when Nick inadvertently ticks off the travel agent he exacts revenge by booking the straight pals on a gay ship. Once aboard and stuck at sea Nick desperate to escape aims a flare gun at a passing helicopter so they can airlift them back to heterosexual land. Instead he causes the chopper to crash-land forcing its 12 chesty passengers members of a Swedish sun tanning team to take refuge on the boat. Nick spends the rest of the film trying to sleep with them but always ends up with the virile butch head coach instead. Meanwhile Jerry gets drunk falls into the pool and wakes up to find the beautiful dance instructor Gabriella (Roselyn Sanchez) performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him. He tries to sleep with her but she thinks he's gay. Jerry lets her believe this because it allows her to let her guard down undress in front of him and talk about meaningful things including how to give a good blow job. But hold on to your visors--there's a twist! Jerry's ex jumps on board mid-voyage to reclaim her man only to find him singing "I'm Coming Out" in a sequined thong.
The most devastating thing about Boat Trip is the fact that it stars Gooding. Is this the same actor who delivered a mind-blowing performance as Tre in John Singleton's 1991 directorial debut Boyz N the Hood and earned the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1996 for the role of football player Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire? At some point Gooding's film choices took a wrong turn and a string of debacles ensued: Rat Race Pearl Harbor Snow Dogs and now this. As Jerry Gooding who portrayed a gay art dealer so eloquently in As Good As It Gets spends 93 minutes proclaiming his heterosexuality and making really stupid faces at the camera. Although Gooding's character Jerry is a sweet guy he's also a flake and it's hard to relate to all the dumb choices he makes throughout the film. Jerry's pal Nick is played by Saturday Night Live alum Sanz (The New Guy) who during his two-year stint on the late night comedy sketch show displayed his versatility and comedic skill nailing impressions and garnering praise--including comparisons to the late SNL great John Belushi. In Boat Trip however Sanz's character Nick an oversexed twerp in a cabana shirt is reduced to being the butt of jokes.
Director Mort Nathan's Boat Trip should have been called The Love Boat: The Homophobic Voyage because it plays out like one of those two-hour TV movies based on the 1970s sitcom. But while the Pacific Princess promised us that love wouldn't hurt anymore it's as hurtful as can be on Boat Trip's deluxe ocean liner. Take Nick for example. He just wants a little lovin' from Swedish sun tanner Inga but is instead chased by the team's manly coach who likes to show off her deep-throat skills on a baseball bat. Not only is this disturbing it's not funny which is the problem with Nathan and William Bigelow's script. The humor isn't seamless and you can smell a joke's set up from a mile away. And unfortunately a bunch of bad jokes strung together do not a good story make--especially when the script is littered with two-dimensional characters. The most objectionable thing about this film however is not its crude humor or its cartoonish stereotypes but the fact that it actually tries to deliver a moral with its story. Jerry and Nick leave their cruise with the knowledge that straight dudes can actually be friends with gay guys because they can be professional businessmen too such as doctors and accountants. You don't say?