(We're re-posting our SXSW review of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay to coincide with the film's theatrical release this weekend.)
"Is it as good as the first one?" That's the question I've been asked most since watching Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay last night. Short answer: Yes ... and no. The HIGHly-anticipated sequel to 2004's Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle comes just how you'd expect it: raunchy, wild, disgusting and completely absurd. This isn't -- and has never been -- a real-life comedy (all that went out the window after the boys rode a cheetah in the first installment); it's a fantasy/comedy, the kind you'd dream up while stoned out of your mind on a Saturday night. I tend to think that's how writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg came up with this idea in the first place.
The Harold and Kumar films have always been about three things: drugs, sex and racial differences. Like with any sequel, all three of those are upped significantly. Instead of traveling across the state of New Jersey, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are now traveling across the United States. The stakes are also higher; this time, the boys are mistaken for terrorists while on a plane heading for Amsterdam after Kumar rigs up a bong that holds in the smoke -- a bong that looks and sounds like "bomb." After they're taken down to Guantanamo Bay, the first ridiculous homosexual joke plays itself out and the boys manage to escape. But where do they go and how do they clear their name? And, most importantly, will we care ... at all?
Probably not. This isn't the type of film that tugs at your heartstrings; more like the kind that tugs at the tiny stoner inside all of us. The boys realize they need to get to Texas where Colton (Eric Winter) is about to marry Kumar's old flame Vanessa (Danneel Harris) -- not to stop the wedding, mind you, but to ask Colton (who has tons of political connections) to help get them out of this mess. Of course, Kumar may miss his ex-girlfriend and Colton may not be all you think he is, but as with the first film, it's not really about the paint-by-numbers story -- it's about their adventure, it's about the ridiculous characters they meet along the way and it's about a solid friendship that not even a mushroom-eating, whorehouse-visiting Neil Patrick Harris can break up.
Standing in their way of success is head of Homeland Security Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), who's probably the most moronic character we've seen in quite some time. There's really no use is trying to rationalize him because we're forced to accept the fact that all logic gets completely thrown out the window from minute one. Yes, it's obvious this is all a big misunderstanding (to us and most of the characters), but somehow Fox is allowed to chase these two from state to state -- from one racist joke to the next -- in an effort to thwart those wild terrorists. The racial humor is present in almost every scene -- this time around they target everyone from the Klu Klux Klan to blacks to Mexicans to Koreans to Indians to Jews. Sadly, though, there's not much originality to each joke -- basically it's the same set up (insert racial stereotype) and the same payoff (turn that stereotype completely around so that it's not what you think it is). This same pattern continues throughout the film, and eventually grows old -- but by that time the boys are running from whores holding shotguns and, well, you may as well go along for the ride too.
Missing from Harold and Kumar 2, unfortunately, is the ability to relate. Fans had a heckuva fun time with the first film because they could relate to having the munchies late at night, and wanting to satisfy that craving by taking a simple car ride to the local White Castle. Here, it's hard to relate to two guys who were mistaken for terrorists and locked up in Cuba. There is a love story, though -- yet it's one that's reminiscent of so many other films that have come before it (stop the one you love from getting married to the wrong guy -- oh, the originality!). But those fans who simply want an hour and a half of classic Harold and Kumar toilet humor will be rewarded big time -- just don't expect to walk away craving more.
I think the high is about to wear off on this one.