Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

In “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” the sequel to the 2004 funny and commercially popular tale of the stoners couple, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” the likable misfits head to Europe–by way of Guantanamo Bay and the American South.

Sequelitis Syndrome: The new film suffers from all the problems of a sequel: Its humor and situations are not as fresh, funny, or wild. And yet, our political films are so grim these days that just the notion of a contempo comedy, silly and absurd as it is, with references to relevant political issues, such as Home Security and treatment of terrorism, should be welcome.

The movie received its first screening at the 2008 SXSW Film Fest in Austin, in the Spotlight Premieres, a good venue for such a comedy. New Line will release the “Korean-Indian male buddy comedy,” as it is known among some of the fans, nationally on April 25.

No stereotypes are safe in “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”–racial profiling, President Bush's right-wing policies, the torture and humiliation of terrorists and suspect-terrorists in our prisons. As is well known, one of the main critical and sociological functions of comedies and satires is to tackle head-on cultural stereotypes and social misconception, and on a certain if limited level, the new comedy does that.

The movie stars John Cho and Kal Penn, reprising their roles as Harold and Kumar. Other cast members include: Neil Patrick Harris as himself, Rob Corddry of “Old School” fame, and Paula Garcs, who was also in “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.”

I have no idea how many people who had not seen the original rented the DVD, but with the right marketing, the picture should yield small, quick coin in the theatrical marketplace. While developing a minor cult status, the first film was not huge theatrically ($18.2 million domestically and much less internationally), but its budget was small (about $9 million).

I mention that due to the fact that the commercial fate of sequels often depends on the size of the fan base, largely a function of the DVD's sales after the 2004 theatrical release. This was certainly the case of the “Austin Powers” franchise, also by New Line, in which the second chapter was four-times more popular domestically than the first picture, due to the fact that the saga developed a cult following between the original and the sophomore segment. (See End Note).

The new, politically incorrect comedy is written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who had also helmed “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” and thus knows how to exploit the specific and specialized skills of the central duo.

In this over-the-top plot, the uptight Harold (John Cho) is determined to visit his new heartthrob Maria (Paula Garcs) in Amsterdam, which is perceived by him as “the world's party capital.” His best friend Kumar (Kal Penn), still avoiding med school, goes along for the ride, the weed, and the girls! At the airport, they run into Kumars ex-girlfriend Vanessa, whos about to marry a stiff politician. Kumar fumes–hes still in love but cant tell her.

On the plane, Kumar decides to chase away his blues with a quick toke in the bathroom. He assembles a smokeless bong when suddenly the door opens. Its a bong! shrieks Kumar, but the passengers hear bomb and panic. Terrorists!

Harold and Kumar are tossed into a Guantanamo Bay prison cell with some Al-Qaeda terrorists and very unfriendly Guards. As they undergo humiliation, a sudden uprising offers an escape, and Harold and Kumar race from the prison into the Cuban jungle. The pair walks, bickering, until they come to a beach, where they jump into a raft with some refugees and arrive on the golden shores of the good ole U.S. of A.

But dogging them is an anti-terrorist unit that figures North Korea must be working with Al-Qaeda! Harold and Kumar have nowhere to hide in Florida. Their parents are in shock, their friends are powerless to help, and Intelligence officials are chasing them. Their only choice is to crash Vanessas wedding and beg her fiance for help. But the weddings in Texas!

Stealing a car from their horny pal, Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug addict-sexaholic who enjoys his “Doogie Howser” fame, Harold and Kumar visit a brothel, get pissed on by the Ku Klux Klan, and hijack a government jet, which leads them to the Presidents ranch. After a long, tortuous and adventurous trip, they finally make it to Vanessas wedding-at a price.

As a freewheeling comedy, the movie is fractured and messy, but it has its moments. I particularly liked the sequences that target the insanely patriotic Department of Homeland Security with its crazy chief Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) as a cartoonish comic strip “hero,” and the depiction of our esteemed president (played by James Adomian) as charming, easygoing, clueless fool.

The best compliment I can pay this wacky segment of the franchise (and there will be more if the film is successful) is to say that there's nothing like it in the current, somber landscape, not to mention that this is an election year, in which the candidates campaigns are nasty and racy in more senses than one.

End Note

Since my review was posted, I asked my assistant to conduct some research, and, indeed,
“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” generated over $60 million in DVD sales and rentals, which makes it a ratio of 3 to 1 compared to the theatrical revenues. Jay Chandrasekhar, who directed the 2002 weed comedy “Super Troopers,” is quoted as saying: “Pot movies don't do terribly well in movie theaters, but on video they're wildly out of proportion to the theatrical gross.”

Cast

Harold – John Cho
Kumar – Kal Penn
Ron Fox – Rob Corddry
Deputy Frye – Jack Conley
Dr. Beecher – Roger Bart
Neil Patrick Harris – Neil Patrick Harris
Vanessa – Danneel Harris
Colton – Eric Winter
Maria – Paula Garces
Raymus – Jon Reep
Raylene – Missi Pyle
Cyrus – Mark Munoz
George W. Bush – James Adomian
Sally – Beverly D'Angelo
Tits Hemingway – Echo Valley
Goldstein – David Krumholtz
Rosenberg – Eddie Kaye Thomas

Credits

A New Line Cinema release and presentation in association with Mandate Pictures of a Kingsgate Films production.
Produced by Greg Shapiro, Nathan Kahane. Executive producers: Joe Drake, Carsten Lorenz, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener.
Co-producers: Nicole Brown, Kelli Konop, Michael Disco, Samuel J. Brown, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg.
Directed, written by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, based on characters created by Hurwitz, Schlossberg.
Camera: Daryn Okada.
Editor: Jeff Freeman.
Music: George S. Clinton; music supervisor, Season Kent.
Production designer: Tony Fanning.
Art director: Kevin Hardison.
Set decorator: Vera Mills.
Costume designer: Shawn Holly Cookson.
Sound: Richard Schexnayder.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 101 Minutes.