April 24, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Dude, Doogie Howser's gay? No freakin' way...

Grade: B
Director: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossburg
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rod Corddry, Danneel Harris, Roger Bart, and Neil Patrick Harris
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

The most conspicuous void in the sequel to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is an absence of the innocence underlying an otherwise insane odyssey by two twenty-somethings just looking to get high and sate their late-night burger craving. Amidst a glut of crass, often uproarious humor, the simplicity of that film’s premise was also its charm. It is also a charm that is somewhat lost in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (let’s admit it: the best movie title since Snakes on a Plane), a film that is not as smart as its meta-tableau portends nor as dumb as its puerile humor suggests. But, in an age when many believe the likes of Blazing Saddles and All In The Family could never get green-lit, it apparently takes these Asian- and Indian-American protagonists to peel back the patina of political correctness and expose the political and social prejudices festering underneath.

Picking up at the end of the last film, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) prepare to depart for Amsterdam so Harold can hook-up with his new love, Maria. Mistaken circumstances involving their ethnicity plus a neon-lit bong (natch) result in Harold and Kumar being arrested aboard their trans-Atlantic plane flight and summarily imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. The full comedic and political potential of this plight is squandered due to their surprisingly brief stay at Gitmo, which ends with an escape, a refugee boat-trip to Miami, and a trip to Texas to seek help from a politically-connected friend (Eric Winter) who happens to be engaged to Kumar’s long-lost ex, Vanessa (Danneel Harris).

What follows is a variation on White Castle’s rowdy road trip, including encounters with inbred Southerners, pipe-wielding street thugs, and even a certain U.S. President – indeed, perhaps this film’s most subversive scene is one that manages to both skewer and humanize Dubya. Neil Patrick Harris returns to the scene of his career’s recent resurgence, reprising his shroom-scarfing, hyper-horny alter-ego. All the while, Harold and Kumar are pursued by Homeland Security, led by a prototypical ugly American uber-agent (Rob Corddry) who confuses Indians for Arabs and believes he has stumbled onto a joint North Korea-al-Qaeda terrorist cell.

The comedy is decidedly raw (and uneven), but never without purpose. When the pot-smoking duo wander into a KKK rally, Kumar’s exclamation that, “Dude, the Klan really knows how to party!” is a perfect marriage of discomforting and disarming. Earlier, a “bottomless” pool party – where the woman’s breasts are covered but they are fully nude below the waist – is a seemingly throwaway scene actually designed to not only push the film’s R-rating but also tweak the arbitrariness of the MPAA rating system. And, over the closing credits, the film’s only on-location shoot is a walking tour through Amsterdam’s red-light district as the filmmakers underscore that the purportedly audacious imagery seen throughout the preceding 100 minutes is literally on public display inside sidewalk shop windows in countries removed from our cultural customs and Patriot Act-era political regime.

In that way, it is not just Harold and Kumar, but all of us, who are still trying to escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Neil Morris

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