There is a reason why Foreign Affairs has never run a theme issue devoted to Dude, Where’s My Car? But that’s not to say you can’t do funny and terrorism at the same time. (See, and see again, and maybe commit to memory, Team America: World Police.) Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay though, doesn’t use the Bill of Rights as the basis of satire. It uses it (literally) for a toilet gag.
Harold and Kumar, whose parents are ambitious immigrants pressuring them to succeed, want to please their folks, make it big, and alleviate the pressure with a lot of weed. These two had more to say about America in their hilarious first movie, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
It’s more satisfying to talk to a stoner about politics than it is to parse this movie. The guys (both of whom are now far too old to be living like college students; Kal Penn, who plays Kumar, could play a 40-year-old) wake up the day after their last adventure with plans to go to Amsterdam. At the airport, Kumar is stopped for a random search, but threatens to call the ACLU and escapes scrutiny.
This is one of many fumbled opportunities; comedy is a (twisted) search for truth, the more uncomfortable the better, and if a guy who looked like Kumar started shouting about civil rights at the airport, we all know he’d be subjected to a search down to the sub-molecular level. Instead, in this movie, the TSA sheepishly backs down and lets him get on a plane — not knowing he has some pot and a “smokeless bong” that, when he tries to use it in a bathroom during the flight, gets him and Harold arrested (“it’s a bong” sounds like “it’s a bomb” — isn’t that hilarious?) and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Never mind that no Americans are ever sent there; H & K are being madly pursued by a federal agent (Rob Corddry) who is so racist, incompetent, and foolish that he never seems like either a serious problem for the guys or a satiric attack on American security. He’s just a giant boob who fades in and out of the movie as the boys easily escape from Gitmo (after a few gross-out jokes), instantly find a boat to Miami (where they attend a party where everyone is bottomless), and drive into Alabama on their way to Texas, where they think they can be helped by the politically connected fiancé of Kumar’s ex-girlfriend. They get deer guts splattered on them courtesy of a hunter who offers to let them stay in his country shack — which on the inside is a spotless, lushly furnished book-lined apartment that looks like it was airlifted from Park Avenue.
This is funny because it’s surprising, but the many jokes about people panicking hysterically because H & K are minorities are tired and obvious. And the script amounts to a series of single-idea skits that never get developed. The guys meet some Klansmen and enjoy some beers at a Ku Klux Kegger, which could be funny. Instead, one minute the guys are being chased by a raging gang of white-sheeters, the next, the incident is forgotten, never to be mentioned again. A gag about an inbred one-eyed backwoods Cyclops doesn’t even get that far; we gawp at the character, and that’s it.
The very funny extended cameo by Neil Patrick Harris in the first movie revived the former Doogie Howser, M.D. star’s career and won him a role on How I Met Your Mother, but this time we know Harris is coming and he doesn’t do much when he does. Harris (again playing a wild-eyed parody of himself) gives the boys a ride while gobbling magic mushrooms. And this leads to…nothing. Oh, he thinks he sees a unicorn. That’s about it.
Only in the last 20 minutes does the movie suddenly start to put things together. Throughout, Kumar and his girl haven’t seemed to have anything in common except a love of pot, but there’s a refreshingly sweet moment where Kumar shows his love by reading her a dorky/funny math poem.
And in a scene that’s both funny and a little touching, H & K drop in on President Bush at his country house and find that the president is just like them, hiding out from the grownups in a pool room outfitted like Delta House and complaining that his daddy put too much pressure on him. So Dubya smokes grass (“laced with blow,” adds the president, played by James Adomian under a distracting chunk of makeup). The paternal-pressure issue helps the president bond with Kumar and all the young viewers in the audience. Even better, Adomian gets to deliver the only decent political joke in the movie: “Trust the government? I’m in the government,” says W, “and I don’t even trust it.” Sounds like Ronald Reagan at his best.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris
2 stars/ 4
102 minutes/Rated R
Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com.