Movie Review: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
By Matthew Huntley
May 29, 2008
It's kind of ironic that a movie about two marijuana smokers ends up being so clear and focused about what it wants to do. The mission of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is to be topical and acerbic by capitalizing on the pathetic flaws of the socio-political zeitgeist. It's funny without being smug or trying too hard, and although its jokes are easy and likely won't stand the test of time, they fit perfectly within the now. For those of us in a generation when our country has had to endure some of the worst leaders and decisions in history, here at least is a stoner comedy with the will to find the humor in it all.
Picking up more or less where the first movie left off, in which Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) satisfied their craving for White Castle mini-burgers, the two potheads set flight for Amsterdam. Harold wants to meet up with Maria (Paul Garces), the girl of his dreams, and Kal, well, Kal just wants to get high. He's so excited he smuggles a smokeless bong aboard the plane and when an old lady sees him putting the device together, she screams, Terrorist! Given his complexion and hair color, it's only natural for her to think so.
Harold and Kumar are arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay, without so much as a phone call, of course. A fervent Homeland Security Agent (Robert Corddry) automatically assumes Harold is North Korean and Kal is a member of al Qaeda, telling them, "I knew you bastards were always working together."
Through means that involve male oral sex, the two manage to escape from prison and hitch a ride to Miami. Harold thinks his friend Colton (Eric Winter), who's about to marry Kal's love interest, Vanessa (Danneel Harris), can help them because of his political connections.
Without giving away more than I have to, Harold and Kumar embark on a long and arduous journey to Texas, stopping along the way at a "bottomless" pool party; an Alabama backwoods mansion where a brother-sister couple hides their mutated son; a KKK meeting; a basketball game played by seemingly angry black people; the backseat of Neil Patrick Harris' car, and eventually a bordello; and finally to the ranch of George W. Bush, who has a secret weed stash of his own, which could explain a lot of things.
Originally, this sequel to the original 2004 sleeper was meant for a direct-to-DVD release, but that would have been a shame since it works so well as a goofy, audacious comedy. Yes, the jokes are obvious, predictable and brazenly left-wing, but their liberal agenda is useful in the way it attacks and mocks stereotypes, along with Americans' tendency to judge people and situations before we really understand them.
My favorite scene involved the Homeland Security Agent trying to exasperate a black man by pouring out a can of grape soda. The saying, "It's funny because it's true" applies here because I believe there really are people as ignorant as this white character. The idea of such a person behaving this way is funny, pathetic and really kind of sad.
In this day and age, stereotypes are easy to come by and even easier to make fun of, so I wouldn't go so far as to call Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay inspired comedy. But luckily the movie supplements itself with the lovable characters played by Cho and Penn. We like Harold and Kumar because they're generally good-natured people. I enjoyed watching them work their way through a silly plot that called out racism, arrogance and narrow-mindedness, all without being mean-spirited or pompous themselves. The movie's presentation is frivolous and over-the-top (it contains all the standard ejaculate and stoner jokes), but it's intelligent and well-targeted, even if the targets have already been hit in several other movies like Borat and any various Michael Moore documentaries.
I laughed a lot during this movie. But if you were to ask me if I'd laugh as much the second time around, I'd say no. This is not the kind of material that holds up for very long because so much of it depends on the time it's released. Right now, though, in 2008, this movie is a riot, even if it won't always be. I guess we should all hope for the day when jokes about stereotypes and political ineptitude stop being funny. Maybe that'll be the day such concepts no longer exist.