Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo BayReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/06/08 16:30:25
Have you seen “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”? Congratulations! You’ve also seen “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”!A sequel to the stoner comedy was inevitable, considering the business the movie wound up doing on home video (where most stoner comedies wind up earning their popularity). And while “White Castle” wasn’t a great film by any stretch, it was a very funny one, with two sharp comic performances from its stars, and that’s enough to make a follow-up seem appetizing. Unfortunately, writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who penned the first movie and who get promoted to the status of writer/directors here, fall into that classic sequel trap: do the same thing again, but do it bigger and louder. In terms of both story and punchlines, this isn’t so much a continuation as it is a rerun. A big, noisy, unfunny rerun.
The story opens the morning after the events of the first movie. Kumar (Kal Penn) surprises Harold (John Cho) with news of a trip to Amsterdam. Once there, they’ll nab all the legal weed they can score, but more importantly, Harold can meet up with dream girl Maria (Paula Garcés), who left for the pot capital of the world at the end of the first flick.
As you can tell from the title, they don’t quite make it. Kumar sneaks a homemade bong on board, which is mistaken for a bomb, leading dimwitted government official Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) to think of our two Asian heroes as terrorists. Off they go to Gitmo, but again, as the title suggests, escape comes quickly, the boys make it back to the States, and the rest is a cross-country adventure as they hope to reach Texas and an old college pal who might be able to help.
The first “Harold & Kumar” movie was charming enough to leave the impression that there’s plenty of room for further adventures, yet “Guantanamo Bay” winds up as a series of wrong turns. In an effort to go bigger, Hurwitz and Schlossberg wind up having to push harder for the humor - which contradicts the first film’s easygoing ways. Here, the script strains to get political, but the satire just doesn’t click, and we’re left with broad jokes that fail to match the weird, nutty style of the original film. Racial commentary, a sly factor in the first movie, returns with far less subtlety here, which makes the humor fizzle on contact.
The most problematic elements are Corddry’s Ron Fox role - well played but essentially a one-joke character whose joke wears thin before his first scene wraps - and a late-movie appearance from President Bush himself - that is, an actor (James Adomian) under thick, creepy make-up that only barely looks like Dubya. It’s never as funny as it thinks it is.
There’s also a skydiving sequence, a cyclops, and a Klan meeting - the latter reminiscent of another sequel gone too big for its own good: “Fletch Lives.” Like that flop, the makers of “Guantanamo Bay” push their characters into oversized comic situations without realizing that they work best in a small-scale universe. And also like that flop, “Guantanamo Bay” spends too much time trying to recapture the comedy by recycling ideas. Remember the redneck from the first movie? This sequel has another redneck! Remember Neil Patrick Harris? He’s back, and does more! Remember the sex dream Kumar had, the one with the giant bag of pot? That’s here again, too!
When the script does manage to avoid déjà vu, it winds up tripping over cheap sitcom cliché. There’s a whole storyline involving Kumar’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris), who’s getting married to a yuppie jerk; naturally, Kumar will find a way to win her back before the closing credits. The whole subplot - which goes so far as to wrap up at the actual wedding, interruptions right at the “speak now or forever hold your peace” and all - falls on its face, because it’s so completely conventional, here in a franchise that’s supposed to be so completely unconventional. How does a movie that includes Neil Patrick Harris on a unicorn wind up with such a formulaic ending?
The movie does manage to wiggle in a few big laughs, mostly from Harris himself (despite the rerun feel, these over-the-top moments are the best scenes). Cho and Penn, meanwhile, are talented enough to wring some chuckles out of lesser material, thanks to clever line readings and a fearless attitude. The characters still work.But this outing doesn’t. The satire, both political and racial, never hits the mark, and the whole thing comes across as a pale imitation.
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