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Harold & Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay Print E-mail
Friday, 05 September 2008
ImageIn 2004, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” didn’t exactly burn up the boxoffice, but then it didn’t cost a whole heck of a lot in the first place.  And it did very well on home video, probably because friends got together, smoked dope like the guys on screen, and laughed their asses off.  In any event, here’s the sequel, starting about ten minutes after the end of the action in the first film.

Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) were born in New Jersey, but Harold’s of Korean descent and Kumar of Indian (from India) descent.  Other than that, they’re basically college roommates who smoke a hell of a lot of dope.  In the first film, this gives them the blind munchies, and they conclude only White Castle burgers will quench their desire for food food food.  They had oddball adventures as they got lost over and over until they finally bagged their burgers and fries.

The movie opens minutes later as they get ready for a trip to Amsterdam, where the dope is legal and a girl Harold’s interested in has gone.  At the airport, Kumar is dismayed to encounter Vanessa (Danneel Harris), his one true love whom he threw over a couple of years before.  She’s on her way to Texas to marry her yuppie boyfriend Colton (Eric Winter), of moneyed Republican background.  But there’s nothing he can do about it at the moment, so Kumar boards the Amsterdam flight with Harold.

To an old lady passenger, the dark-skinned Kumar looks exactly like an Arab terrorist, so she keeps her eye on him.  While Kumar’s trying to light up a hit of pot in his special smokeless bong, he falls out of the lavatory into the aisle.  He tries to explain, but “bong” sounds like “bomb” to all these nervous passengers, and the plane heads back to the U.S.  Eager-beaver home security officer Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) is sure he’s got his hands on the perfect set of terrorists—North Korean AND Arab—and despite their feeble protests and the objections of a more reasonable agent, Dr. Beecher (Roger Bart), the two are immediately sent to Guantanamo Bay. Don’t let the title fool you.  It makes it sound as though writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are going to take on the lofty goal of satirizing the prisoner situation at Guantanamo, but Harold & Kumar make the title escape only about fifteen minutes after the movie begins.  They make it over the fence, find a boat load of Cubans heading for Miami, and soon are at the door of a rich pal in the middle of having a big party with lots of gorgeous girls—bottomless rather than topless.  Harold wants to go to Texas to get Colton’s help in proving their innocence; Kumar’s all for this—he wants to try to stop Vanessa’s marriage.

They head off westbound in their pal’s yellow convertible, but in Alabama (where the whole movie was shot), one thing leads to another, and they have to push on without a car.  They meet a redneck with a gun who invites them home for dinner, but his inbred Cyclops son scares them away.  It’s the South, and they’re not white, so of course they run across a Ku Klux Klan nighttime picnic, complete with robes and burning cross.

And after that, they encounter Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris), whom they’d run into in the first movie.  He wants to go to a nearby whorehouse, they just want help getting to Texas. 

So it goes.

“Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” is what it is—an amiable, meandering comedy about stoner pals.  There are ca-ca jokes (a big noisy one as the movie begins), pee-pee jokes (H&K are pissed on by a Klansman) and some bare tits and bare crotches.  This time, the movie was directed by the writers of the first film, who scripted this one, too.  As directors, they’re good screenwriters, but it plays as though their direction consisted only of “point the camera over there” to the DP, and “louder” to the actors.  It’s a shapeless lump of a movie.

But then again, to succeed on its terms, that’s all this movie has to be.  It’s mildly subversive in having non-white protagonists who are, even so, regular young American guys, a bit younger than but not much different from those you find in Judd Apatow movies.  The comedy is similar, too, but Hurwitz & Schlossberg don’t try for the sentiment that’s so much a part of the Apatow oeuvre.  There really aren’t all that many jokes about being stoned, except for a great big one in Texas, when H&K parachute onto the ranch of George W. Bush (James Adomian), a major stoner himself.  Well, in this movie, at least.

Rob Corddry, late of “The Daily Show,” makes a great wildly overzealous opponent who literally wipes his ass on the Fifth Amendment.   There are a few guest stars—David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas return briefly as the Jewish stoners they played in the first movie.  Christopher Meloni, billed as Reverend Clyde Stanky, turns up as the Grand Wizard of the Klan mob H&K run into in the Alabama woods.  Mainly, though, there’s Neil Patrick Harris playing a weird version of himself—he’s horny, a drug fiend and perpetually stoned.  He has a tendency to see himself ride by on the back of a unicorn emanating trippy colors.  Harris is clearly having a grand time, and he’s one of the best things in this raggedy-ass movie.

Harold & Kumar’s ethnicity is both one of the points and, contrarily, beside the point.  Some people see them as strange visitors from another world, but the characters we’re supposed to like take them in stride, as the movie does most of the time.  There’s no big point being made, but the small point—that Americans come in other colors than white—is important enough to make the film significant in a goofy, stoned way.  Note that both their girlfriends are Caucasian.

Kal Penn is having an interesting career—here he is playing a friendly, dippy medical student who’s stoned much of the time, and there he is on “House” playing one of House’s new doctors.  And again, there he is playing the title role in “The Namesake,” a serious drama about people from Indian living in the United States.  He’s very good in all these capacities.

John Cho has been busy, mostly on TV, for about ten years; he’s rarely had a prominent role, but was a regular on “Kitchen Confidential.”  His level of fame will undoubtedly change big time next year—he’s playing Sulu in the new “Star Trek” movie.

One of the better aspects of the movie is that though they’re roommates and get stoned together a lot, Harold and Kumar aren’t much alike.  Harold is more uptight and inclined to get peevish; he’s also neater and much more organized—demonstrated in the first few minutes of the film as they prepare to go to Amsterdam.  This keeps their relationship fresh in terms of areas of possible conflict, and makes the movie more fun for us to watch.  We’d get tired if they were basically the same guy twice, as with the older stoner comedy team of Cheech and Chong.  (Maybe that will be the third movie—“Harold & Kumar vs. Cheech & Chong.”)

[Written by AVRev] [START]
The lack of any type of unique cinematography makes the viewing presentation of this disc fairly lackluster.  The source is clean, as expected from such a new release.  The colors are muted, with a post-production digital enhancement that plugs up the fleshtones.  Black levels are decent, but not strong enough to warrant a truly rich picture.  There is no major compression to speak of, however some edge enhancement yields slight jaggies.

Just as with the picture, the audio quality is extremely lackluster.  The Blu-ray comes with a DTS-HD 7.1 soundtrack, which is pretty overkill.  The film was original recorded and mixed for 5.1, so these extra 2 discrete channels of surround sound are not really discrete.  The mix is mostly front-heavy.  The four surround channels were difficult to hear throughout the film, except for a few brief moments.  The surrounds mainly contain a delayed copy of the music score.  The dialogue is clear and well balanced.

The Blu-ray release of the film includes two discs.  One disc is a digital copy for your ipod.  The main Blu-ray disc contains the film and the special features.  The most interesting special feature is, "Dude, Change the Movie."  This feature allows you to interact with the film, change the direction of the plot and subplots.  Most of the changes are childish.  For example, you can change the "bottomless" party into a "topless" party.  However, there are some interesting subplots that can be added by selection.

There are two audio commentaries.  The first is with the writers-directors, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and actors Kal Penn and John Cho.  This, as might be expected, is the better of the two commentary tracks.  It is informative as to the basic elements of the film and just plan silly.  The second commentary with again Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and actors James Adomian and Harold Lee, is a bit redundant, but not nearly as entertaining.  The last two special features are a featurette, "Inside the World of Harold and Kumar," which is a pretty standard recap of the film, and a collection of deleted and outtake scenes.

If your tastes run to stoner comedy and very mild gross-out humor, you’ll probably get a kick out of “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” but like smoking pot, it won’t stay with you very long.  But there’s nothing wrong with that.

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