Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay exists because it was cheap to make and has a devoted core audience, not because its predecessor, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, was a blockbuster. The filmmakers, understanding what made the first movie successful with its adherents, avoided changing the formula this time around. The second H&K movie might just as easily be called Harold and Kumar: More of the Same. Escape from Guantanamo Bay picks up where White Castle ended and continues the comedic episodic story, stretching it out to epic length, albeit without epic content.

Determining individual reaction to Escape from Guantanamo Bay is a slam-dunk. Those who applauded White Castle will enjoy this one; those who didn't would do better seeing something else. It's a simple equation and the producers, actors, and distributor recognize this. The well-established parameters are adhered to: more weed, more gratuitous nudity, more raunchy comedy, more silliness, more intentionally cartoonish supporting characters, and (most importantly) more Neil Patrick Harris. For writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, it was simply a matter of re-assembling the old group and adding a few new faces.

Having returned from their journey to find a White Castle hamburger joint in Cherry Hill, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are getting ready for their next big adventure: a trip to Amsterdam to track down Harold's would-be girlfriend, Maria (Paula Garcés). Their problems begin at the airport, where Kumar protests when he's pulled aside at the security check-point for a "random" search. Later, before boarding their plane, the duo encounters Kumar's ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Danneel Harris), and her fiancé, right-wing bigwig Colton (Eric Winter). For Kumar, this is a reminder of the path not taken, and we get the sense that the movie might be as much (or more) about his pursuit of Vanessa than about Harold's chasing Maria.

In an act of blatant stupidity, Kumar smuggles a bong on board the plane and, when he tries to light up in the lavatory, it's mistaken for a terrorist device (it doesn't help that the word "bong" sounds like "bomb"). A hawkish government hotshot, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), is soon on the case and Harold and Kumar end up in orange jumpsuits at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. However, since no prison can hold these intrepid stoners, they're soon on their way back to Miami in the company of illegal immigrants. This leads to another series of road trip adventures, featuring bottomless swim parties, an inbred Cyclops, a KKK rally, a smoky sit-down with an unexpected ally, and another run-in with a tripping Doogie Howser.

Some of Harold and Kumar's most staunch defenders will point out that a subtext of White Castle was the way in which it addressed racial stereotypes. This is continued in Escape from Guantanamo Bay, where the dunderhead government agents can't tell the difference between Indians and Arabs, and where Fox thinks finding Harold and Kumar together indicates a partnership between al Qaeda and North Korea. There's also a message about the repressive tactics of the current administration, although the movie ultimately sets up George W. Bush as a stoner folk hero of sorts. However, while it's impossible to deny that there's a political agenda in the undercurrent, Escape from Guantanamo Bay is more about raunchy sex-and-drugs humor than it is about preaching to the converted. The movie's comedy pushes buttons and expands the envelope of the R rating. The frontal male nudity is probably less shocking in the wake of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but this film also provides plenty of traditional T&A, lots of Bush, bodily fluids galore, and enough weed to keep Cheech and Chong happy. The humor is uneven in the extreme. Some of the material is funny and some is painfully bad.

As was established in White Castle, Harold and Kumar are essentially a stoner, '00s version of the Odd Couple. Harold is Felix and Kumar is Oscar. The dynamic between these two represents the foundation of the film and the chemistry between Penn and Cho keeps the movie (mostly) afloat during its too numerous lame sequences. When jokes fail in rapid succession, something that occurs on more than one occasion, these two keep things watchable. Neil Patrick Harris elevates the film's energy level with his manic performance of someone who is like him in name only. The movie is at its best when he's around, which is unfortunately only about 15 minutes.

In the final analysis, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay delivers what's expected from it and what the characters' fans have been craving since the White Castle escapade. The movie is unpolished, unabashedly un-PC, and takes on as many "sacred cows" as it can uncover in a slightly-too-long 105 minutes. It's sporadically enjoyable in a silly, mindless way and it's hard not to laugh at least a few time while awash in all the bad taste. To its credit, the film never pretends to be more than it is and it never tries to do more than what is expected of it.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2008-04-25
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Drugs, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1