Film Reviews

Let's Go to Prison

Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle with the novel idea: What if you made a John Hughes movie, but instead of writing garishly caricatured bit players with names like Long Duk Dong, you cast an Asian actor as the smart, handsome, upwardly mobile leading man? Ultimately, the writers' spongy, satisfying li'l munchie treat — starring John Cho as Harold Lee, an investment-banking underling pining for his hot neighbor and a hot burger, and Kal Penn as his best friend Kumar Patel, as an underachieving Indian-American stoner med student — became a work of stoned-outta-its-gourd subversiveness in which the stars' ethnicity definitely mattered, but not enough to, like, matter, dude. It owed its charm and eventual home-video cult rep to the fact that it was accidentally political — a raised fist clutching a bong high over its bowed head. Genius. Also stupid. But genius nevertheless.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, which Hurwitz and Schlossberg co-direct in the absence of White Castle's Danny Leiner, is mostly dumb, no matter how desperately and even valiantly it aims for "thinky." Which, for the fan base, will be enough — more than enough, actually, especially as the guys roll into Miami just in time to catch the tail end of the "bottomless party" attended solely by supermodels and (fair warning) one guy with pubic hair resembling "Osama bin Laden's beard."

Yet again, the duo are on a road trip — this time, though, not in search of the perfect late-night slider, a positively Homerian quest, but the old college friend who can clear their good names with the U.S. government after Kumar gets busted trying to light a smokeless bong on an airplane to Amsterdam. And, yes, smoking out on the way to the marijuana capital of the universe seems like the most redundant and unnecessary thing to do in the history of ever. Which begs the inevitable question: Isn't Kumar, a genius slacking off before accepting his inevitable fate as a doctor in the family business, supposed to be smarter than that?

A franchise that began as a half-assed, half-baked, but quite natural Political Statement shrouded in pot smoke now strives too hard for relevancy, and its satire this time around is rendered clunky and clownish — chiefly in the guise of former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry as Ron Fox, a Homeland Security official who's so determinedly racist he makes the Ku Klux Klansmen who show up later look cuddly. Corddry, whose acting style has always been too arch and hammy for the big screen, immediately takes one look at Harold and Kumar and decides it's "Al Qaeda and North Korea working together," then ships the twosome off to Gitmo, where they're nearly forced to dine on their burly captors' "cockmeat sandwiches."

Eventually, Fox spouts off about Harold's parents' "ching-chong language" (which happens to be... English), then pours out a bag of pennies in order to convince Harold and Kumar's buddies Rosenberg and Goldstein (Eddie Kaye Thomas and David Krumholtz) to drop a dime on H&K after their escape from Gitmo. The movie, which thinks it's being wildly seditious and boldly offensive, more or less possesses the sense of humor of a Catskills comic. Jews and pennies — how, yaaaaawn, hysterical.

Broken down into its individual sketches — toilet-paper commercials have more narrative — Guantanamo Bay isn't without its random laughs, if the sight of a poorly made-up Cyclops is your idea of a tickle. Most of the funnier scenes come, once again, courtesy of Neil Patrick Harris as, of course, "Neil Patrick Harris," the way-too-hetero 'shroom junkie tailing a rainbow-riding unicorn on his way to a Texas whorehouse, where he goes to "get my fuck on" moments before brandishing a branding iron. Christopher Meloni, the first film's pus-drenched Freakshow, also shows up again — this time as a KKK Grand Wizard who revels in his minions' accounts of stupid things they've done to mi-nor-tees.

Truth is, as occasionally entertaining as it can be, Guantanamo Bay is essentially a bawdier — but, sadly, dumber — version of its precursor: It starts with Kumar on the toilet playing a one-man game of Battleshits 15 minutes after the final scene of the first film; once more finds the boys lost in the backwoods and surrounded by inbreeding bumpkins (though, admittedly, with a surprising touch of class); and winds up in Crawford, Texas, with the boys smokin' out with the worst Dubya impersonator since Timothy Bottoms went stupid all over Comedy Central. And it ends with Harold and Kumar trying to bust up a wedding in which one of their True Loves is about to get hitched to a rising sumbitch in the Bush administration. Who knew this was really just a sequel to The Wedding Crashers?

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky