Most sequels to successful comedies do nothing more than ape the original’s structure and jokes, too afraid that audiences won’t stand for any deviation from what they liked about the first film. As can be judged from just the title, Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay brings its titular stoner heroes back for a new big screen comic misadventure, but manages to inject some spot-on social satire into the bargain.
Picking up the following morning after the end of its progenitor, Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, the new film finds the pair dealing with the first film’s fallout, both gastronomical and romantic. Seeing as Harold (John Cho) can’t wait the ten days that his new found love Maria (Paula Garces) will be in Amsterdam to see her again, the pair decided to hop a trans-Atlantic flight to the Netherlands for a surprise visit.
But in the current political climate, it is rather hard for a Korean and an Indian to board an airliner without attracting some paranoid, and a shade racist, attention. Following a mid-flight misunderstanding over a bong – Only Kumar (Kal Penn) would be dimwitted enough to try to smuggle pot INTO Amsterdam – the pair find themselves imprisoned as terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay facility. True to the title of the film, they duo don’t stay there long, but manage to make a break for freedom. They soon find themselves heading through the deep South to Texas, where Kumar’s ex-girlfriend (Danneel Harris) is about to marry a guy who can clear their name with the State Department. And of course, they once again run into out-of-control actor Neil Patrick Harris.
As a device to get the plot in motion, “Two stoners are mistaken for terrorists and go on the run” is a much higher concept (pardon the pun) that the original film’s “stoners go on a munchies run.” While the first film got much mileage through making fun of racial stereotypes and the ignorant people who embrace them, this film digs further by pointing out the racism that has sprung out of the paranoid state the current administration has attempted to whip the citizenry into. As Kumar sits quietly on the plane awaiting takeoff, he smiles politely to a little old lady. But rather than a nice young man dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, she literally sees a wild-bearded, turbaned ethnic stereotype laughing maniacally. It won’t be the only time that he will be mistaken for an Arab. Once the pair has been arrested and an overeager Homeland Security Official, played to pompous perfection by Rob Croddry, learns that Harold is of Korean descent, her immediately jumps to the conclusion that al Queada and North Korea must be working together. The ethnicity of the Harold and Kumar is never the punchline to the joke, it is only part of the setup. Those of a neo-conservative bent may not laugh, but everyone else will.
The screenwriting team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who take over directorial duties from White Castle helmer Danny Leiner, manage to balance the satire with a plethora of other jokes that run the gamut from slapstick to surreal to scatological. Some frontal nudity, both male and female, is played for laughs and the foul language flows freely as well. It must have been an interesting screening with the folks at the ratings board. Hurwitz and Schlossberg also supply some solid characterization for their two leads, fleshing out a bit of their background and exploring their friendship a bit more. Of course, this just helps to support some of the humor later on. It is not often that one gets to see two characters have personal epiphanies while surrounded by the understanding and supportive staff of a Texas bordello, but we do here. Here’s hoping we go on another road trip with Harold and Kumar real soon.