May 1, 2008


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Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (R)
After a night of searching for White Castle, Harold and Kumar board an airplane to Amsterdam but end up first in U.S. custody and then on the run in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, another stoner comedy with bits of social message that can mostly be forgiven for not being as smart as its original.

Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have decided to go with Amsterdam so that Harold doesn’t have to wait 10 days to be with Maria (Paula Garcés), the girl he finally got up the nerve to kiss at the end of the last movie. Kumar is a man who understands impatience — he’s so impatient that he can’t wait until he gets to Amsterdam (where it’s legal) to get high, so he decides to spark up his bong on the plane. Of course, even without a motorized, battery-having bong that looks to nervous passengers like a bomb, Kumar already looked like a member of the Axis of Evil to some of his fellow flyers. Air marshals take him down hard when he’s caught weed-handed and Harold, of course, is roped along.

Once in custody, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), a man putting the “special” in Special Agent, decides that Harold and Kumar are proof of a North Korea/Al Qaeda plot. He sends them to Guantanamo Bay, where, just before they are about to become really friendly with one of their soldier guards, a pair of real terrorists breaks out and Harold and Kumar follow.

What follows is basically a road trip — one that takes them from Cuba to Texas, where they hope to prevail on a friend to help them clear their names. Or rather, Harold hopes to prevail on that well-connected friend. Kumar is happy to have an excuse to interrupt the guy’s wedding to Vanessa (Danneel Harris), Kumar’s ex-girlfriend. Through flashbacks and sorrowful Kumar looks, we learn that a big bag of weed might not be the true love of Kumar’s life.

Realizations about Kumar’s surprise maturity and sort-of subtle commentary about the dumber parts of the War on Terror are, of course, not the point of this movie. The point is stoner jokes, some fart humor and Neil Patrick Harris’ cameo that involves a unicorn. That along the way George W. Bush is the one to tell Harold and Kumar that they don’t have to believe in their government to be good Americans, just believe in their fellow countrymen, is the icing on the not-so-gracefully-constructed hashish-filled snack cake.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is more fantastic in its premise than Go to White Castle was and, as a result, not quite as smart or as much giddy fun. We lose the joy of absurdities like finding a cheetah on the way to a hamburger run. Subtleties about the expectations heaped on first-generation Americans are dropped in favor of broader comedy about general racism. But you can’t hit a magic mushroom on the head every time, and for a comedy that uses a trip to a brothel, a one-eyed genetic mutant and a whole lot of pot to make its arguments about injustice, Escape from Guantanamo Bay mostly gets the job done. B-

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language and drug use. Written and directed by John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros. Pictures