If you enjoyed Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and have any reservations about the sequel, fear not. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay may not be quite the same as its predecessor, but it brings enough of the story mechanics back and the stoner humor that made it a cult success. Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, also serving as directors this time around, have upped the ante like the sequel cliché goes. There is more nudity, (with a bottomless party, how could there not?), a lot more swearing, and just plain old vulgarities every single second. As for the premise’s blatant sending up of racial stereotypes and epithets, even those get a shot of adrenaline going from the city streets of Alabama, a KKK kegger, and the bigoted government officials unable to decipher the weird Chinese dialect, called English, spoken by Harold’s parents. It definitely isn’t pretty, bodily fluids flow freely, but the laughs never cease. When your goal is to bring the funny and there are times in the theatre when one can’t hear the next line because of uproarious laughter, you know success is yours.
The beauty of this film is the amount of fun you know these guys are having. To get all the principals back for a second go round of a film that did no bank at the box office is quite the feat. Sure DVD sales and internet buzz was huge for the original, but did anyone ever think the boys would actually get to Amsterdam on the big screen? I know I didn’t have that much faith. People could badmouth this effort very easily for many reasons. Maybe the sex and just plain offensive nature can be seen as unoriginal and tired, maybe the fact that it is practically the same film rehashed, (besides numerous callbacks to the first—AIDS monkey, cheetah, Christopher Meloni playing another “freakshow,” and the backwoods encounter with a stereotypical crazy man with an attractive wife—the plot is very similar with only the reversal of Kumar now looking for the girl being different), could be harped on, or even that the structure being a series of gags sequenced together into a whole is old; either way if it works, who cares? There were very few instances where I wasn’t laughing let alone smiling at the proceedings. When else can you see a nod to the classics like The Goonies done so well?
My biggest concern going in was with the war on terrorism satire that the trailers tried so hard to get across. When you put in an actor to play someone like George W. Bush, it can backfire and go completely awry. Surprisingly, though, that scene, amongst others, is actually pretty well done. The ineptitude of the American government is portrayed often—and actor Rob Corddry is the worst part of the film spearheading that aspect; I just don’t like his schtick—yet there is always someone there to play the other side (Roger Bart) and show that while they know there are mistakes, they aren’t a bunch of buffoons going around willy-nilly. If nothing else this film should be credited for finally having the guts to poke fun at the tragedy of 9-11. It’s been so long and I think that humor is necessary for any sort of healing process. To have the fortitude to do the airplane scene with Kumar laughing in his Taliban garb motioning a crashing airport is not something to tread with lightly. Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to go pedal to the metal with this film and they never make a compromise, kudos to them for that.
The film begins right where the first left off and everyone is still in the same frame of mind. To add a little spice to the mix, we do get introduced to a new character, Vanessa, an old flame of Kumar’s. Being that she is about to marry an aspiring politician, the inclusion not only plays into the need of a love interest, (Maria is still in Amsterdam, and of course we all know the boys don’t make it off the plane to see her), but also into the ability to bring the government in through his connections. Being on the cusp of even having the President attend his wedding, who better to go to for help in absolving their terrorist accusations? Vanessa is well played by the attractive Danneel Harris in a role that doesn’t get much screentime. She is, however, involved in probably my favorite scene of the film—a flashback on how she meets Kumar and shows him the world of narcotics. It is a fantastic sequence helping to align his brains with the lifestyle he has begun to live in…and there is a brilliant cameo by Harold that brought the house down.
Of course the movie would be nothing without John Cho and Kal Penn, the titular characters respectively. Their rapport is fully intact and the shenanigans they get into are the impetus of the story. It’s a shame that Cho is in practically nothing and Penn has been relegated to roles without lines (Superman Returns) and television (“24” and “House”) because they could do so much better (as evidenced with The Namesake). This is their film and they do not disappoint, right until the end credits. There are a lot of cameos here as well, mostly from people that we saw in the original. Playing themselves in either stereotypical ways or as the butt of a racial joke, it’s good to see them have a sense of humor. If only everyone in real life could have that attitude they wouldn’t be cultivating racism by the sheer fact they accuse everyone of it. While that is probably another discussion for another time, at least this broad comedy has enough cultural value to realize it and put it into the minds of college kids for whom the film targets.
Oh, and did I mention Neil Patrick Harris? No? Well that must be because he is so brilliant words can’t even describe. What a conclusion to his arc, just fantastic.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay 8/10 | ★ ★ ★