by Mel Valentin
Just when you thought it was safe to venture back into your local multiplex, along comes another mindless, raunchy teen sex/pot comedy. Wait, no, that’s not right, not exactly, anyway. What we’re talking about is no ordinary sex or pot flick, but the much anticipated sequel to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." Four years in the making, "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" is every bit as raunchy, vulgar, crude, viciously parodying racial stereotypes, left, right, and center and then some. It’s that “then some” that ultimately undermines "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay:" the jokes are too crass and the political humor too obvious, and thus, sadly, it’s no match for its predecessor. Well, with the exception of Neil Patrick Harris’ return as “Neil Patrick Harris,” a libido-driven, drug-addicted caricature of his public persona.The sequel picks up minutes after the end of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. After a long, very long night of getting high, running into all sorts of mischief, finding and devouring White Castle hamburgers, Harold Lee (John Cho), one-half of Harold and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn), finally got the nerve to talk to the woman of his dreams, Maria (Paula Garcés). Unfortunately, she was headed to Amsterdam for work, postponing the consummation of their relationship (if that’s what you want to call a few smoldering lips, a conversation on an elevator, and making out). The impulsive Kumar convinces Harold to ditch work and follow Maria to Amsterdam.
"Yes, they're back, but it's not as much fun the second time around."
At the airport, Harold and Kumar run into the first of many obstacles: airport security grabs Kumar for a personal inspection. Kumar balks, citing First Amendment concerns and ethnic profiling. Kumar also runs into his old girlfriend, Vanessa (Danneel Harris), and her new fiancé, Colton (Eric Winter), a wealthy conservative with ties to the current administration. On the plane, Kumar reveals that’s he brought some weed and an invention of his own, the first smokeless bomb. Of course, one misunderstanding leads to another and before you can say, “terrorist,” Harold and Kumar are back in the United States in detention. An official from Homeland Security, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), pegs Harold and Kumar as terrorists and, over their objections (and his contempt for due process), ships them off to Guantanamo Bay.
In Guantanamo Bay, Harold and Kumar face prison time without the rights and privileges (that’s a joke, by the way) associated with civil and constitutional rights afforded to even the poorest of Americans. After avoiding something called a “cock-meat sandwich,” Harold and Kumar escape, first to Miami aboard a makeshift raft with illegal Cuban refugees, and, after getting help from a college friend, on to Texas, where Vanessa and Colton’s wedding is just days away. Harold sees Colton as their way out of the mess Kumar got them into with the feds. Kumar sees an opportunity to break up the wedding and get back together with Vanessa.
Of course, it’s not a straight road (or path) from Miami to Texas. Along the way, Harold and Kumar run into several Southern stereotypes, from African-American residents of a small-town in Alabama, to a farmer and his surprisingly well-dressed wife, and, unsurprisingly, the Ku Klux Klan, enjoying a barbecue in the middle of the forest. They also run into the current occupant of the White, George W. Bush (James Adomian), here depicted as a hedonistic, pot-smoking, Dick Cheney-fearing frat-boy with daddy issues. In other words, the Bush we meet here is the tired cliché (true or not) that’s long outworn its welcome (not unlike the current occupant of the White House whose second term will mercifully end in January).
With the political humor so broadly played and the raunch factor multiplied six or seven times, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay isn’t going to make anyone forget, even momentarily, its far superior predecessor. There, the political or social commentary was less broad, less obvious, focusing more on racial stereotypes than on the current political scene. In addition, the pot-based humor seemed a lot fresher than it does now. The wild non-sequitars present in the original (e.g., Jamie Kennedy’s cameo, Neil Patrick Harris’ appearance) are also missing in action. Still, co-writers (and now co-directors) Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg made a smart decision to bring Harris back. Harris mines his character’s excesses for comedy gold. It also doesn’t hurt that Hurwitz and Schlossberg also have John Cho and Kal Penn and their impeccable comic timing as co-leads.Too bad, though, that Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to go down the well-trod path of obvious humor, both political and otherwise (including one too many gross-out gags and F-bombs). Even with all of these flaws, though, it’s hard to resist Harold and Kumar’s charms as characters or Lee and Penn’s respective comedic talents, but hopefully next time (and let’s hope there is a next time), Hurwitz and Schlossberg will do better by their characters and their audience.
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originally posted: 04/25/08 00:00:00