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Dustin Putman

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Harold & Kumar Escape
from Guantanamo Bay
2 Stars
Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.
Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Danneel Harris, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris, Paula Garces, Jack Conley, Roger Bart, Eric Winter, Jon Reep, Missi Pyle, Mark Munoz, James Adomian, David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Beverly D'Angelo, Christopher Meloni, Echo Valley, Ava Santana, Chantel Silvain, Courtney Shay Young, Crystal Mantecon, Katheryn Ryce, Errol Sitahal, Clyde Kusatsu, Mary Deese.
2008 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 24, 2008.
2004's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" was a box-office disappointment, but, as most stoner comedies tend to be, a big success once it hit ancillary markets. A goofy, cameo-heavy diversion about a misadventurous quest to reach the title fast food restaurant, the film was raunchy, predictable, and charming in its quaintness, helped immeasurably by the chemistry between stars Kal Penn and John Cho. "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" closely abides by the usual sequel model. Everything is on a bigger scale, the bawdiness is more rampant, and the story goals and comic targets are of a loftier persuasion. Even so, and not for a lack of trying, the outcome simply isn't as satisfying this time around.

Picking up right where its predecessor left off, best friends and pot enthusiasts Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) pack their bags and head for Amsterdam, where Harold's beloved crush Maria (Paula Garces) has gone to for a ten-day trip. On the plane ride over, Kumar's bong is mistaken for a bomb and racially ignorant Secretary of Defense Ron Fox (scenery-chewing Rob Corddry) promptly sends the pair to a Guantanamo Bay prison. When they see a chance to escape, they take it, and soon Harold and Kumar are on the lam, headed across the deep south as they attempt to find a way to clear their names.

Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (writers of the original), "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" pushes the boundaries of what can be shown in an R-rated comedy. Male and female nudity is rampant, sexual content is high, and the graphic sights and sounds of bodily functions punctuate every other scene. These elements work all right as shock value, but aren't necessarily funny. What is good for some chuckles is the heavy concentration on race-related material, and the take-no-prisoners way that Hurwitz and Schlossberg approach the subject, sharply playing with and breaking down stereotypes while commenting upon and ridiculing peoples' prejudices.

Secretary of Defense Ron Fox is like the poster-child for Ugly Americanism, idiotically (and humorously) buying into the most antiquated of beliefs of different religions, races and ethnicities. And yes, he's not above blackmailing a black guy by threatening to pour out a can of grape soda or getting answers from two Jewish men by dangling a bag of coins in their faces. Even the Indian-American Kumar and Asian-American Harold aren't always above racial profiling of their own, whether they realize it or not, and directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are surprisingly pointed and honest about this socially relevant truth.

A series of set-pieces leading toward romantic subplots—Harold wants to make it to Amsterdam to profess his love to Maria, while Kumar wants to do the same to ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) before she marries oily bohunk Colton (Eric Winter)—"Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" is spottily amiable. A surprisingly hilarious and grotesque scene involving a hunted deer segues into a sequence involving an inbred child that is scarier than anything in the recent "Prom Night" and "Shutter," while another segment set at a backwoods Ku Klux Klan meeting is deliciously off-center. By the time Harold and Kumar find themselves at the Texas home of George W. Bush (James Adomian, looking nothing like the President), though, the picture runs out of steam and sputters to its foregone conclusion. At 102 minutes, the film is excessively long-winded and doesn't know when to quit.

You get what you expect with "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," and then some, and that's the problem. The return appearance of Neil Patrick Harris, playing a sexed-up, drugged-out version of himself, is welcome, and John Cho (2006's "American Dreamz") and Kal Penn (2007's "Epic Movie") slide back into their roles as Harold and Kumar as if there wasn't a four-year gap between movies. What the movie is missing is the low-key sweetness of "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." There, all they wanted to do was eat a burger and satisfy their munchies, and the fun was in seeing the series of ridiculous roadblocks thrown in their way. Here, the stakes are much higher for the duo, the antics are staler, and the supporting players get in the way of the lead characters' easygoing camaraderie. "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" is far from a complete failure, but in trying so hard to up the ante the filmmakers have made a lesser, more rambling finished product.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman