Movie-Hype #734 - HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
[Read Hyperion's Review of the first Harold and Kumar film]
I get criticized by my friends for not liking dumb movies. This isn't true. I have no problem with the Dumb Movie genre. I just wish they'd make smart Dumb Movies, if you follow me. HAROLD ANDKUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE is such an example. Despite having zero connection to the world of marijuana (and its Munchies aftermath), I had no problem enjoying the satirical nature, the broad comedy, the vulgar comedy, and everything else in between. Not every joke worked, but many of them did. The film was funny, and I won't say differently.
Enter the sequel: HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY. Ostensibly taking place one hour after the first film, in reality it's been four years. That means many people have rented the first film or seen it on cable, which in turn means the stakes are raised. The rule of the sequel says: there must be more than the first film. If you're talking Rambo it means a higher body count. If you're talking twostoner Asian-Americans, it means more nudity, more satire, more drugs, and taking things up a notch, or perhaps several.
The Guantanamo Bay thing doesn't work for me. It certainly is not important to the film, as they spend less than five minutes there, and are gone by the twenty-two minute mark. In G-Bay (as president Bush later calls it), the terrorists are mostly hapless and harmless caricatures who pose no threat to anyone. The guards, on the other hand, are all sadistic sodomizing rapists. This in itself doesn't bother me (we are talking comedy here), but the movie is trying desperately to score political points against the Bush Administration and the whole fight against terror. If that's your goal, fine, but I would hope for a more intelligently crafted narrative than "the guards all force the prisoners to eat cockmeat sandwiches." (I am not making that term up; it's in the film.)
Along with the G-Bay nonsense is Rob Corddry, of The Daily Show fame. He's running the Department of Homeland Security, and more ignorant asshole you've never met. Corddry does his best to chew up the scenery, but his extraordinarily racist clueless government worker rubbed me the wrong way. Yeah, I get it: the Bush Administration thinks all Asians are Arab terrorists, all black people can be manipulated with Grape Soda, and all Jews will betray their friends for seven bucks in change. It's like a Dave Chappelle skit, but without the nuance, if that makes sense. (Add to that a scene where Corddry wipes his own butt with the 5th Amendment--AND WE HAVE TO SEE THE AFTERMATH!! GRODY BEYOND COMPARE!!!!!!)
Along their way Harold and Kumar traipse through the American South. There they learn that not all black guys are murderous thugs, not all rednecks live in shacks (though they are all in-bred with one-eyedcyclopi in their basements), and while the Klan may be horrible, they really know how to party. Making fun of the South by also making fun of people who judge the South is an old comedy tactic that allows some pretty horrible stuff. Some of it works, most of it does not.
(Law & Order's Christopher Meloni, so memorable as Freakshow in the first film, here plays the Wizard of a local KKK group. He's one of the funnier parts, and gets off arguably the film's best line, which is unfortunately so horrible I can't repeat it here.)
HAROLD AND KUMAR 2 seems stuck between really wanting to go for the throat and being the nice quasi-gentle comedy that doesn't really offend anyone. Actually, now that I think about it, most of their best moments were when they put the petal to the metal. I wish they'd done that more. I think my bigger problem is how much of the ground is retread. Many of the jokes/scenes from the first installment are lifted directly to here. Yeah, the dream sequence about a love affair with a bag of weed wasgoofily funny the first time around. Not now. The weird couple in the woods? Been there. Neil Patrick Harris?
Actually, Neil Patrick Harris continues to rock. At this point he could show up in any comedy movie and I'd feel reassured. (Turning into a mini ChristopherWalken, or at least a Jason Bateman.) Harris's satirical take on himself is one of the highlights of the film.
And, while it served no purpose, Harold and Kumar visit a "bottomless" party. It's like a topless party, but opposite. It was curiously unsexy to see the vagitarian buffet on display, but I'm certainly not going to criticize thinking outside the box. For that matter, there is much more overall nudity here, and that can't but be a good thing.
This brings me to George W. Bush. What's strange is that the movie spends most of it's time crushing Bush for the fight against terrorism, but when he actually shows up he's a likable dude. And, he smokes pot! Kumar tries to call him on the hypocrisy of enjoying marijuana but putting others in jail for the same thing, but Bush has a plausible explanation:
Kumar: So you get high and you put other people who smoke weed in jail?
Kumar: That's so hypocritical!
Bush: Oh yeah? Well let me ask you something, Kumar, do you like giving hand jobs?
Kumar: No sir.
Bush: Do you like gettin' hand jobs?
Kumar: [smirking] Heh, yeah.
Bush: Yeah well, that makes you a fuckin' hypocriticizer too, so shut the fuck up! Now smoke my weed.
After Bush fixes everything, the movie tries to wrap up into cookie-cutter wisdom, so no one will be too horrified:
Harold: After all the shit we've been through, I don't... I don't know if we can trust our government anymore.
Bush: Trust the government? Heck, I'm in the government and I don't even trust it. You don't have to believe in your government to be a good American. You just have to believe in your country.
I've read my review over, and realized I spent most of it carping about something. I guess that makes me a hypocriticizer too, but overall I ended up enjoying it. Didn't start out that way, but by 40 minutes in I found myself laughing from time to time. Might enjoy it even more with another go. I really enjoyed the flashback to see Harold and Kumar before weed. The math poem at the end will make any nerd-girl randy, and I did find out what a bumpkin was. (Though now, I wish I had not.) Also, it must be pointed out that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or in this case, Rosenberg and Goldstein) have another hilarious scene, with Goldstein wearing an "I HEART SMEGMA" T-shirt. That's comedy gold.
And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that John Cho and (especially) Kal Penn are great comic actors. If they were white they'd both be household names, and if it takes a franchise like this to make them stars, I'm willing to support it. God bless them both.
Ideally you'd like a better film than the first installment, but apart from that, all you're really hoping for is that they have to make the number of times I laughed worth more than the number of times I sat there rolling my eyes. They manage to do this. And they manage to give me some memorable moments. I guess that's enough.
Suspension of Disbelief: 8 out of 10. The film had everything but robots.
Genre Grade: We're talking the no-limit comedy here. Harold and Kumar 2 reminded me of Porky's 2, right down the Klan subplot. That movie wasn't as good as the first, but still decent. The first film was an A-. Here I'd go C+.
Sex/Drugs/Rock&Roll? - Even more than the first. If that doesn't tell you what you need to know, I can't help you.
Pantheon Percentile: not one of Western (or Eastern) Culture's greatest works, but watchable, in the end. 51.