From Guantanamo Bay
- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © New Line Cinema
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ack in 2004, when “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” was released, nobody could have ever guessed it would become a cult classic. The film’s stars were virtual unknowns (John Cho was best known for his role as MILF Guy #2 in “American Pie”), and though a few lucky people were able to catch it during its limited theatrical run, it was ultimately labeled a failure. When it arrived on DVD, however, “Harold & Kumar” experienced an “Office Space”-like rebirth that not only transformed the film into an underground sensation, but also played a big role in removing the stigma of marijuana use in Hollywood. It’s a little surprising, then, that it’s taken four years for a sequel to get made. The original stoner duo, Cheech & Chong, cranked out movies like it was nobody’s business back in the day, and while “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” has certainly been a long time coming, it simply wasn't worth the wait.
The film picks up right where the last one left off. Having successfully satisfied their craving for White Castle, Harold (Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) begin packing for their trip to Amsterdam, where Harold hopes to meet up with new crush Maria (Paula Garcés). When Kumar attempts to use a smokeless bong on the flight, however, the duo are mistaken for terrorists and sent to Guantanamo by an incompetent Homeland Security agent named Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). Miraculously breaking out and catching a boat back to America with a bunch of illegal Cubans, Harold & Kumar embark on a cross-country journey to clear their name. To make matters worse, Kumar has just discovered that his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) is about to marry the same Republican douchebag (Eric Winter) who may be the only person that can get them out of this political mess.
As a fan of “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle,” I was extremely disappointed to discover that the sequel isn’t nearly as clever. The movie starts out in the same spirit as its predecessor, but once the duo escapes from prison, it quickly becomes a parody of what one might expect to see in a “Harold & Kumar” film. As a result, it’s no longer about the two main characters, but rather their misadventures along the way. Run-ins with an inbred Cyclops child, the Ku Klux Klan, and a shotgun-happy whorehouse mistress (Beverly D’Angelo) are just a few of the featured encounters that pop up throughout their journey, but the big climax is reserved for when they crash into George W. Bush’s Texas home and smoke pot with the President (unconvincingly played by a prosthetics-laden James Adomin).
Since when did Harold and Kumar suddenly become so uninteresting that they needed over-the-top set pieces to make them funny? Sure, the first film had its share of wild confrontations and characters (pot smoking cheetah, anyone?), but they never went so far as to overshadow Cho and Penn’s onscreen relationship, which was ultimately the reason why it worked so well. This time around, not only does their relationship take a backseat, but John Cho is given very little to do. Part of the blame can be attributed to a lack of substance in the script, but it’s mostly because writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have decided to push Kal Penn into the spotlight by giving him his very own love interest. It’s a subplot that doesn’t really work in the context of the film and would be completely unnecessary were it not for the fact that they needed a reason for Kumar to grow up.
Unfortunately, it’s a change that’s for the worst – not unlike the movie itself. “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” was extremely simplistic. It was about one thing (the munchies) and anything else (like Harold’s wooing of Maria) was gravy on the top. “Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” on the other hand, is too busy cracking jokes about race, class, and politics (let alone juggling a romance subplot) to understand what was so funny about the original in the first place. While the film definitely has its moments, along with a few standout cameos (Neil Patrick Harris returns as himself and Christopher Meloni plays a local KKK Grand Master), it’s too hit-and-miss to truly enjoy. Laziness may be an inherent quality in movie stoners, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers have to adhere to the same rules.