The 21st century’s answer to Cheech and Chong, John Cho and Kal Penn have not only become the new poster boys for stoner comedy, they’re also rare Hollywood leads that are neither white nor black but, respectively, Korean and Indian. More so, this distinction isn’t just skin-deep: the characters’ ethnicity plays a central part in the proceedings, especially in this here sequel.
Mere hours after going on a hamburger binge at White Castle, straight man Harold Lee (Cho) and perpetual fuck-up Kumar Patel (Penn) hop on a flight to Amsterdam, where they hope to take full advantage of the legality of marijuana. Alas, after being caught lighting a bomb-looking bomb in the plane’s bathroom, our favourite potheads are sent directly to the Guantanamo Bay prison by a Homeland Security agent (former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry) who’s convinced that they’re terrorists working for an alliance between North Korea and Al-Qaeda!
As you can guess from the title, Harold and Kumar eventually manage to “escape from Guantanamo Bay” and cross over from Cuba to Miami, at which point they decide to go to Texas and try to clear their names with the help of an acquaintance whose family has close ties with George W. Bush…
Wow, that was a pretty straightforward plot summary but, if you’ve seen Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, you’re probably aware that things could never be that straightforward with those guys. As Harold lament to Kumar at one point, “every time the two of us try to get somewhere, it’s fucking disaster after fucking disaster!”
“Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo” somewhat suffers from sequelitis, lacking the surprise element of the original and retreading some of the same material. On top of that, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote both films and helm this sequel (taking over from Danny Leiner, who directed “White Castle” its spiritual prequel “Dude, where’s my car?”), do kind of a shoddy job behind the camera.
Nonetheless, what’s going on in front of said camera is generally pretty damn funny, no matter how clumsily it’s sometimes shot and cut. At its best, “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” is a sharp satire of post-9/11 paranoia, racial profiling, the violation of prisoners’ rights, etc. There’s also a lot of dick and fart jokes, which can be hit and miss, gratuitous but not unwelcome nudity and of course, a lot of pot smoking, which seems to be the cause and the solution of all of our heroes’ problems.
And then there’s Neil Patrick Harris, who steals the show once again as an out of control, shrooms-munching, whore-loving variation of himself. Best of all, there’s a brilliant scene that takes advantage of the presence of this “Starship Troopers” cast member to underline how eerily prescient Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 film was, perfectly debunking the mindset that led to the various excesses of the War on Terror, years before Bush even took office.