Ask anybody under twenty-five what he/she thought of the 2004 stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and he/she will almost certainly say, with intense feeling, “It was huh-LARE-ious.” There’s going to be a similar reaction to the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. It’s a movie that needs no review. Everybody who liked the first one, or heard that the first one was huh-LARE-ious, is going to see the second one, and will likely find it to be funny as hell too.
Still, since we’re here, let’s review the thing.
Directed by the screenwriters who also wrote White Castle, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay picks up right where the first film left off, with our heroes still feeling the effects of their epic adventures scoring White Castle burgers to assuage the pangs of pot-induced munchies. Their hair-raising trek through the wilds of New Jersey has marked these young men in very different ways. Harold (John Cho), an uptight investment banking drone, is taking a blissful shower and daydreaming of his inamorata Maria (Paula Garces), whom he’d finally kissed at the end of that first traumatic odyssey. His friend Kumar (Kal Penn), a hedonistic pre-med student, is dealing with a savage case of indigestion from eating all those White Castle “sliders.” And there you have the two poles of the franchise coming together in the very first scene. Sweet clichéd young love and explosive diarrhea. Presumably we’ve all been there.
This dynamic duo is about to fly to Amsterdam in romantic pursuit of Maria and the legendary legal weed available there. But as you can tell by that wonderful title that can’t be repeated too often, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, something goes wrong. A series of air travel disasters that seem like the stuff of our culture’s collective post-9/11 nightmares put the boys at serious odds with America’s beefed-up Homeland Security forces, and off they go to Gitmo where a macho pinhead Fed (Rob Corddry, former Daily Show fave) is determined to nail them as terrorists.
I viewed these early scenes in a spirit of gentle approval. All the kids love Harold and Kumar, and I like to see the young folks happy. I also like to see the young folks embracing proper, traditional young folk values like the commitment to recreational drug use and new experiences and raw language and irreverence toward authority. I worry sometimes about how many young Americans seem to be moving away from these wholesome pursuits. They get religion, they stay at home with their parents, they take abstinence pledges, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink, they don’t rebel or express their fledging individuality—they purse their lips and Just Say No a lot. They’re like stereotypical middle-aged people used to be: weird, repressed, judgmental, xenophobic. No fun at all.
These Harold & Kumar movies seem to be offered up as an antidote to that trend. There’s so much about them that’s in the right camp. Hordes of film reviewers have already marveled at the H & K films’ nonchalance in dealing with race and ethnicity. Our heroes just happen to be a Korean-American and an Indian-American, and they deal with the obnoxious stereotyping they encounter all over the place in refreshing ways, including paying no attention to it at all—they’ve got more important things on their minds, like trying to score pot—and exhibiting a kind of impatience with it that’s actually sort of urbane. Overcoming stupid prejudices through shared enjoyment of the basic pleasures of life, which seems to be the H & K philosophy—that seems like a good thing. Mocking the dire craziness of the current administration and its policies, that seems like an excellent thing. In short, I’d like to like this film a lot better than I do. So why don’t I, in spite of my basic approval of good clean fun for the young folks?