Long live the nerds!

“Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj”MGMDirected by Mort NathanWritten by David Drew GallagherStarring: Kal Penn, Lauren Cohan, Daniel Percival, Glen Barry, Anthony Cozens, Steven Rathman and Holly DavidsonRated R/95 minutesOpened Dec. 1, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

A sequel named “Van Wilder 2” without Van Wilder makes about as much sense as a sequel named “Jerry Maguire 2” without Jerry Maguire–but, hey, when you have a recognizable brand name, I guess you stick with it. Van doesn’t even make a cameo, perhaps because he slept in too late.

“Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj” comes under the National Lampoon banner, which usually serves as a warning sign to ticket buyers, much like those signs that say “50,000 volts” on the fences in “Jurassic Park” (dear reader, I must confess that I touched “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation” and was left sizzled and scarred for months).

As another entry in the booze-and-boobs genre of campus romp comedies, “The Rise of Taj” is less harmful to the touch than most of its shockingly bad brethren, perhaps because it sticks to what makes these movies fun (the booze and the boobs) and stays away from the gross-out gags–say, like the Cream of Doggie pastry that Van Wilder baked in the first movie. However, I must inform you that there is one explosively wet joke involving the sexual exploits of a very horny Doberman at a stuffy dog show, so those of you who like your ale pale won’t be totally disappointed.

“The Rise of Taj” tracks just that: the rise of Indian-American Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn) from Van’s former assistant with the obsession for oral sex euphemisms to the big man on campus at London’s Camford University (his euphemisms survive the journey).

Would you believe me if I told you that he’s assigned to a house of losers, and together they overcome their insecurities and tragic uncoolness to defeat the house of snooty rich boys in a campus-wide competition for some cup thingy? And would you believe that the head boy of the snooty house is named Pipp (Daniel Percival) and that he ends up face down in something gross? Or that the nerdiest of Taj’s disciples–a numbers whiz who chose Camford University because it had the highest nerd-to-willing-chick ratio–hits the jackpot with a sexy woman whose legs seem to go all the way up to her neck? It’s fun to believe that such things could happen, especially if you’re a student like me who feels as though his college experience has been sadly lacking in all-night toga parties.

I especially liked the house of snooty boys–the Fox and Hounds–whose wall-hanging motto may as well be “My daddy owns your daddy and half of Asia, because my daddy’s rich.” Daniel Percival, as the delightfully loathsome Pipp, has those smug, British eyebrows that seem to constantly disdain whomever or whatever they’re interacting with. Of course, his girlfriend Charlotte (a very fetching Lauren Cohen) realizes what a stuck-up twerp he is and defects into Taj’s arms. Surprise, surprise.

I also enjoyed the ragtag members of Taj’s house, including head-butting Irishman Seamus (Glen Berry) and Cockney-spouting foul-mouth Sadie (Holly Davidson)–both of whom, I realize, are little more than flagrant stereotypes, but give them a break. “The Rise of Taj,” like “Animal House” and its ilk, deals in the debased and juvenile. Bungee-jumping for beer? Voluptuous babes in wet T-shirts? Arrogant frat boys who get their comeuppance? Yeah, it’s nothing new under the sun, but it’s not too vile. My inner 15-year-old liked it.

“Hmmm, just as I suspected. Some jerk frat boys stole our equipment. Alas.” Kal Penn laments in “Van Wilder 2