A film review by Craig J. Koban
AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
2008, R, 105 mins.
2008, R, 105 mins.
John Cho: Harold / Kal Penn: Kumar / Rob Corddry:
Ron Fox / Roger Bart: Dr. Beecher / Neil Patrick Harris:
terms of its strident political leanings, the affectionately titled HAROLD
AND KUMAR ESCAPE GUANTANAMO BAY is clearly pro-Bush…
it certainly is very much in support of the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief.
film is the direct sequel to the surprise 2004 cult comedy hit, HAROLD AND
KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, which despite sounding like some sort of
shameless product plug, was actually a surprisingly pleasurable
romp. That film was
crass, crude, filthy minded, and very, very pro-marijuana, but the film
was not just another in a long list of banal CHEECH AND CHONG rip offs.
Rather, HAROLD AND KUMAR was really, at its heart, a bit more of
sensitive and multicultural CHEECH AND CHONG.
The two characters are Hindu-American (that’s Kumar) and
Asian-American respectively and there were several times where the best laughs to be
had were not at the expense of gross out gags and bathroom humor, but
rather in spite of and at the expense of their own ethnic heritage.
film was arguably the very first that I have ever seen that had an Asian
look at his Hindu stoner buddy and ask, “Why is Neil Patrick Harris so
think the overall key to my appreciation of the first film was that, deep
down, the main characters were likeable, funny, hyper intelligent and
quick witted, and sweet and sincere underneath their more outwards
pot-smoking, slacker facades. The
film also generated a lot of comic mileage as a result of dealing with
issues of racial prejudice that Harold and Kumar dealt with on a daily
basis. There were tons of
scattered jokes that could aptly be described as being “racist” in the
film, but I think that label could be deflected easily by the fact that
many of those gags were perpetrated by the duo themselves.
One of my favorite comments from the film is when Harold explains
why he will never hook up with a fellow Princeton Asian girl because she
is a “Twinkie: yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.”
AND KUMAR 2 goes for much of the same vibe, but only with intermittently
successful results. Like its
antecedent, this sequel is light, breezy, and silly beyond all
recognition. It's two stars are as affable as ever and there is a
definitive aura about the whole enterprise that it is absolutely willing
to do anything necessary to get a laugh.
Yet, I think what this sequel lacks is the giddy simplicity of the
first, where the two super high dudes engaged on an ridiculously inane and
uncomplicated journey – albeit initially – to cure their pot induced
munchies by going to the White Castle for some mini-hamburger sustenance.
In HAROLD AND KUMAR 2 the pair engage in a story that seems a bit
too needlessly dense and beset by contrivances.
What this does, in effect, is make the film less of a cohesive
whole and feel more like a series of half-assed late-night television skits
where some of the pratfalls and jokes work famously, whereas too many
others fall flat.
a bit worse is the notion that the film heavily focuses on the least
successful elements of the first film, which is a considerable amount of
jokes revolving around disgusting bodily fluids and sexual innuendo. It’s almost as if screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden
Schlossberg (who penned the first film’s script) stood up and
proclaimed, “We need more raunch, more hard core nudity,
more weed and
drug jokes, more f-bombs, and more jokes about ejaculate, urine, fecal
matter, and farting!” What
they seemed to forget was the wit and charm of the smarter elements of the
first film, where its heroes bridged the gap between being fiendishly
clever creations and inane caricatures.
Cho (the dude in AMERICAN PIE that immortally called Stiffler’s mother a “M.I.L.F.”)
reprises his role as Harold and Kal Penn returns as his frequently
inebriated and hotheaded friend, Kumar.
The sequel takes place within what seems like minutes of the first
film: After successful curing their cravings for White Castle
burgers (and after getting Neil Patrick Harris to pay them them for leaving
“love stains” in the back of their car), Harold and Kumar decide to
immediately begin their next adventure and travel to Amsterdam.
Their motives are not just for the sake of smoking weed legally;
they also want to track down the love of Harold’s life, Maria (Paula
arise from the onset for the pair. Kumar
is stopped by an airport security officer for a “random check”, which
offends Kumar and he quickly labels the guard of racial profiling (the
fairly pasty skinned guard defends himself by stating, “But I’m
black,” to which Kumar hilariously deadpans, “Dude, you’re barely
brown”). After this hiccup the two board the airplane, but one Waspy
old woman seems to suffer from Taliban vision:
In another funny bit, we see what she sees, which is Kumar, dressed
in full terrorist regalia, miming to her how he is going to send the plane
down. This well-timed gag
proves that anything – even the memory of 9/11 – can be the source of
comedy. The key here is that
the joke does not use the suffering of 9/11 as the source of the joke, but
rather the unstoppably paranoia and ignorance that people have developed
in its wake.
Kumar makes one gigantic blunder mid-flight: He brings a bong on board and
wants to join the new mile high club. That pesky racist woman catches Kumar with the device, which
looks bomb-like, but Kumar politely states that it’s “just a bong,”
which everyone on board misreads as bomb.
Soon, Harold and Kumar are quickly detained by a acid-tongued government stooge named Ron Fox (Ron Corddry), who soon surmises that
North Korea and India are in cahoots to plot an attack with Al Qaeda
against the US. Faster than you can say “Neil Patrick Harris loves trim,”
the duo are sent packing to the prison on Guantanamo Bay, where they are
forced to almost endure eating a sandwich that involves a particular male
appendage of the guard.
Thankfully – and in the nick of time – they escape the compound and pose as illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, Fox has detained Harold and Kumar’s parents and gets a translator to get information from them (in one zany moment, when Harold’s parents speak English and state that they’ve been American citizens for decades, the translator incredulously whispers to Fox, “They’re speaking some sort of unfamiliar dialect"). Harold and Kumar are then forced to elude capture and engage in another mandatory series of wacky adventures, which involves (let me get my note pad out from the screening I was at): a party involving bottomless, not topless, women…and one man; a run-in with a red necked southern couple that are actually siblings that have an inbred son that happens to be a cyclops; a visit to a whorehouse where the two get mushy and teary-eyed with some very understanding and sympathetic prostitutes; a visit to a KKK rally, where Kumar unexpectedly reveals how he feels the clan are actually kind of cool as party animals; and finally…yet another run-in with Neil Patrick Harris, once again played with voyeuristic, hedonistic, and misogynist glee by…Neil Patrick Harris, who spends the film being high on mushrooms and Jack Daniels.
He also sees unicorns.
a tick…Harold and Kumar also crash Camp David while President Bush is on some R
and R and find out that – gee whiz – the prez is a really, really cool
dude that likes weed, arcade games, and telling off his dad.
Dubya has one weakness: Dick Cheney, whom he reveals “scares him
laughed a lot during Harold and Kumar 2.
The scene mentioned involving Bush is a real howler, as is every
moment with Harris, who once again proves why he has given one of the
ballsiest, tawdry, and hilarious cameos in a long time (he’s not playing
himself, per se, but a satirical version of himself, which shows what a
sport he is). There is also a
very amusing flashback that shows when the then-straight arrowed Kumar
first got introduced to the chronic via a cute calculus student named
Vanessa (Danneel Harris) and an even more viciously weird fantasy of
Kumar’s that involves a sexual three way between himself, Vanessa, and...a human
sized bag of pot with arms and legs.
AND KUMAR 2 once again generates some decent laughs based on the shallowness of
ethnic and racial stereotypes.
Three moments are small little gems:
The first involves Harold and Kumar driving through a southern hood
where they unintentionally stop a street basketball game by running over a
fire hydrant. The gigantic
and menacing African men lurch towards them with crowbars and Harold and
Kumar flee, but one of the hulking brutes is dumbfounded, seeing as he and
his buddies where just trying to fix their flat tire (it’s later
revealed that he’s an orthodontist).
The second involves the stars going to the home of a deer hunter,
which looks like a shoddy and decrepit shack on the outside, but when they
get inside the place is decked out and looks like the cover of an Ikea
catalogue. The last is one of
the slyest scenes in the movie and has Agent Fox interrogating two of Harold and
Kumar’s friends, both of whom are Jewish. Fox jingles a small bag
filled with money in front of them in hopes of forcing them to talk.
After he throws the pennies on the table and leaves the room, the
two quickly steal the loot.
scenes are side-splitters, but for some of the smartness that HAROLD AND
KUMAR has with it humor, there are far too many gags that are largely
still-born. As much as I liked the film’s humorous attacks on racial
bigotry and the political hypocrisy of Patriot Act-era America, the film
is too awash in tastelessly graphic and gratuitous debauchery.
HAROLD AND KUMAR 2 is too scattershot and lewd for its own good and the
film seems keen on being a perceptive and bawdy political satire on one
hand, but on a heavier hand it seems more willing to be an excessive
exercise in gross-out pratfalls. The
film feels, as odd as this sounds, too shallow and mindless at
times, which stunts some of the film’s intelligent satire.
Also, there are too many disposable subplots, especially the one
concerning Kumar’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa and her new right-wing fiancé,
Colton (Eric Winter) that hits every methodical and predictable beat.
AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY seems fairly critic-proof: Fans of
the first film will eat up all of its coarse, unrefined, and tawdry 105
minutes. I guess this is, at
its core, a stoner film, but what I liked so much about H&K Part One
was its craftiness and aptitude with its subtle commentary on intolerance
and bias alongside its more flamboyant, go-for-broke laughs.
Some scenes in this sequel are inspired moments of socio-political
parody, but HAROLD AND KUMAR 2 seems more willing to drown itself in dumb, nauseating laughs
when it should
be a more satisfying and riotous comedy about governmental-induced
mistrust and repression. In
the end, the film is sporadically hilarious and droll, but more often than
not its attempts at pushing the boundaries of R-rated debauchery make
this sequel too unhinged. What
it needs is more subversive comic refinement and less unpleasant