Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
Director : Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Screenplay : Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : John Cho (Harold Lee), Kal Penn (Kumar Patel), Rob Corddry (Ron Fox), Jack Conley (Deputy Frye), Roger Bart (Dr. Beecher), Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eric Winter (Colton), Paula Garcés (Maria), Jon Reep (Raymus), Missi Pyle (Raylene), Mark Munoz (Cyrus), James Adomian (George W. Bush), Beverly D'Angelo (Sally)
Little has changed for Harold and Kumar, the eponymous duo who went searching for sliders to quench their dope-fueled munchies back in 2004. Of course, that makes perfect sense since Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay takes place less than an hour after the events of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle ended. Harold (John Cho), the Korean Jack Lemmon to Kumar's (Kal Penn) Indian Walter Matthau, are getting ready to head to Amsterdam in hot pursuit of Harold's crush, Maria (Paula Garcés).
Alas, just as their search for the perfect food landed them on a comic nightmare journey through the backwoods of New Jersey in White Castle, their planned European odyssey is quickly deep-sixed when Kumar's new invention--a smokeless bong--is mistaken for a bomb by the crowd of nonwhite-fearing tourists on the plane, and he and Harold, immediately labeled terrorists, are hauled off by the U.S. government to the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay. Thus, while White Castle took a few pointed jabs at issues of race, the new film makes race, nationality, and the hysteria associated with both its primary target, turning its multi-ethnic 21st-century Odd Couple into fugitives who must navigate through prejudice, pompousness, and general idiocy to clear their names.
Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, whose only claim to fame is having also written the first film, Escape From Guantanamo Bay is expectedly uneven and somewhat derivative, but nonetheless works quite well given that, unlike most gross-gag comedies, it has a devious political agenda. Because Hurwitz and Schlossberg make said agenda so blatantly obvious this time around, carting out everything from a midnight Ku Klux Klan rally, to a virulently racist and idiotic Homeland Security operative played by Rob Corddry, to a George W. Bush impersonator who smokes grass and laughs openly about his hypocrisy, Escape From Guantanamo Bay is a bash-the-Right fest disguised as a lowbrow stoner odyssey. The first movie worked better because the material felt fresh; here it works because it is so fundamentally unapologetic in its crass take on contemporary politics, even if said politics are a bit uneven (for all its criticism of the government, the film ultimately makes Bush seem like a fairly cool dude).
We also learn a little bit more about our lead characters, particularly Kumar, who has previously been defined primarily by his boorishness and selfishness, but is now shown to have a soft side. In a subplot involving his his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) and her snobbish neocon fiancée Colton (Eric Winter), we learn that Kumar does, in fact, have a heart, and we also get an amusing flashback that shows how he morphed from a high-strung college math geek into the epitome of no-worries repose. To that end, Harold takes a bit of a backseat, but it's only fair since the first movie chronicled his romantic obsessions.
Some of Escape From Guantanamo Bay simply retreads variations of the first movie, including the duo's uncomfortable sojourn in the backwoods cabin of a Louisiana redneck (Jon Reep) and his smiley wife (Missi Pyle), not to mention the return of Neil Patrick Harris as a 'shroom-inducing, oversexed version of Neil Patrick Harris. His appearance here isn't nearly as funny as it was in the first film, simply because back in 2004 it was so deliriously unexpected (plus, at that time Harris hadn't elevated caddishness to an art form each week on How I Met Your Mother). Harris definitely has some amusing moments, the best of which involves Corddry's agent falling into a fan-induced stupor in his presence, not because of his iconic role as Doogie Howser, M.D., but rather because he played a rising fascist in Starship Troopers (1997).
By the time Harold and Kumar crash through the roof of George W. Bush's country getaway and toke up with the President because he's trying to escape the wrath of Cheney, the movie has started to wear out its premise and its point (not to mention the fact that the make-up used to make actor James Adomian look more like Dubya is just kinda creepy). Nevertheless, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay makes good on its promise to push buttons and turn the gross-out comedy on its ear by showing that the personal truly is political.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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