I’m going to keep this short, because, really, how much serious thought can be dedicated to Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay? The summation is simple: the movie is often funny as hell, ridiculously irreverent and, if more than a little bit angry at the system, still more interested in smoking up than fighting the power.
The story picks up immediately as the first film ends. Harold and Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn), bruised and bandaged from their White Castle excursion, head to Amsterdam in pursuit of Roll-d’s crush Maria (Paula Garces). Complications inevitably ensue. They encounter Kumar’s old love Vanessa (Danneel Harris), who is about to marry Colton (Eric Winter), a clean scrubbed Republican. And on the plane, Kumar’s penis pump cum smokeless bong is mistaken for a bomb, landing the duo in the clutches of paranoid Homeland Security op Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). Guantanamo Bay, here we come!
All that means that the new hijinks have a slightly different, more realistic tone. (Very slightly more realistic.) Picture more racist cops, fewer puppet raccoons. There’s nothing quite as nasty as the makeup on Freakshow, as scatological as Battleshits or as culturally forgettable as the Mountain Dew douchebags that haunt the sidewalk in front of Harold and Kumar’s apartment building. Granted, the sex dream about a giant bag of weed is back, but this time it’s a threesome.
As such, this is hardly a subtle sequel. The trailer has already revealed the ‘bottomless party’ sequence, but perhaps not the consequent follow-through of a joke about Osama’s beard that was part of a deleted scene from the original. That joke is an indicator, though: some of the material feels shamelessly recycled, as when the redneck with a hot wife recurs. Different redneck, different wife. Slightly different joke.
H&K2 is often content to be more of the same, and in fact this is really another road movie. The duo lingers in Gitmo for about ten minutes, tops. For those wanting a stoner version of The Great Escape, keep waiting.
The most significant alteration to the first movie’s formula is a chunky romantic subplot that drives Kumar towards Texas. That leads to plenty of easy jokes, like the flashback sequence where we see Kumar’s introduction to pot. But it also culminates in a wedding confrontation that actually isn’t too painful; repeat writers (and debut directors) Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg learned a few things from Wedding Crashers, at least.
The two inevitable questions: what does Neil Patrick Harris do, and is every moment of the Dubya impersonation cringeworthy? Harris falls into the ‘more of the same’ camp, but he’s got a few shining moments, and is a welcome presence. Who else would chase a porn star with painfully oversize breasts from a whorehouse run by Beverly D’Angelo? Harris also enables Corddry’s best moment, during a scene at a roadblock.
And Dubya…well, he’s for the younger set. In a movie that already has explicit fisting and more racial jokes than definite articles, the ‘stoner president’ schtick seems tame. Like every other situation in the film, however, it’s over pretty fast.
Pulling the disparate ideas together is the reliable chemistry between Penn and Cho. Reprising these roles doesn’t qualify as any major achievement, but the two manage to ignore the four years between movies, and that’s enough. I’d like a rewrite that gives them more time to play directly against Corddry, who does most of his work against an (admittedly excellent) Roger Bart.
Corddry is often pushing too hard to get the laughs his lines deserve; maybe half his routine hit. He should be the movie’s gateway to righteous indignation, but really he’s just a goof. That’s a microcosm for the movie as a whole, as political digs are tossed out with the same off-handed brevity as the pot jokes. The politics do expand the movie’s appeal. Corddry wiping his ass with the Fifth Amendment and berating Harold and Kumar’s parents for not being white can offend everyone, blazed or straight.