Hurwitz and Schlossberg can't quite recapture their magic in this spotty stoner sequel.
In 2004, I was begrudgingly dragged by my then-boyfriend to go see Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and discovered, much to my delight, that the movie was hysterical. In the ensuing years, I married the boyfriend and Harold & Kumar writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote a sequel, which they also directed; things were going well for all of us.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (A.K.A. Harold & Kumar 2) picks up right where the first movie left off -- a day after, in fact. The boys no longer have the munchies, but pot is still the launching point of their adventures. You see, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) board a flight to Amsterdam and things get a little hairy when Kumar is mistaken for a terrorist when he breaks out his smokeless bong in the airplane bathroom and the two wind up in Guantanamo Bay. And as you can gather from the title, it's not long before the two break out and are on the run from the authorities in an effort to prove their innocence.
Although the first movie didn't exactly do gangbusters at the box office, it found a large and devoted audience in the DVD that enabled the sequel to come to life. And as such, New Line can expect that it is going to be a big box office draw when it opens this weekend. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, I liked the first one better.
During a recent interview with Harold & Kumar star Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser M.D., How I Met Your Mother), Harris suggested that he though the humor from the first movie was all over the place, basically throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and this time Hurwitz and Schlossberg have a more defined, distinctive comedic voice. I actually couldn't disagree more. It's not that it isn't funny; Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay definitely has its moments, but I found there were far less of them for me in this one than in the original.
Perhaps the issue is that I went into the first one with no expectations, so it had nowhere to go but up, and this time I went in with high ones. But the bottom line was I just didn't find a lot of what was going on funny, and that was a bummer. Given, Harold & Kumar is very much about the lowest common denominator type of broad comedy, but a lot of times I found the jokes just gross and not funny at all.
What's really interesting is what Harold & Kumar has to say about the current political climate in our country. Yes, yes, I know the movie is about fart jokes and strippers, but there's actually quite a lot of depth to it, as well. In what happens to Harold and Kumar, in the scenes at Guantanamo Bay, and especially in the hilariously exaggerated politico-jerk character played perfectly by Rob Corddry (The Daily Show, The Heartbreak Kid), Hayden and Schlossberg are actually making quite a statement about the mindlessly ignorant prejudices and practices that are masquerading as patriotism in our country. It might seem like they're just taking the chance to get a laugh by calling Harold 'Hello Kitty,' but doing so makes a statement about our current administration.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that virtually no one is immune from Hurwitz and Schlossberg's keen skewering, I will say that there was a somewhat upsetting undercurrent of homophobia that permeated the movie. Repeatedly throughout Harold & Kumar, the worst thing that a character can have done to them or imagine having done to them is a homosexual act, which I found rather off-putting, to say the least.
Regardless, a lot of Harold & Kumar fans are going to show up to the theater this weekend ready to be rendered incontinent with laughter. And sure -- there are some things in it for them. Penn and Cho are still cute and empathetic, and Harris's cameo as a hard-living parody of himself still bring down the house, but all told I just don't think the sequel can live up to the magic of the original. If that's what you're looking for, I recommend skipping the theater and just firing up your DVD of the first installment instead.