Unbelievably, Kal Penn and John Cho are both in their 30’s, but they’re still the perfect image of mid-20’s slackerdom in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the sequel no one would have expected when Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle made just $18 million in theatres. But thanks to the wonders of DVD, America’s current favorite stoners are back, bringing with them pretty much everything that made us love them to begin with.
The movie kicks off literally minutes after the first one ended, with Harold (Cho) and Kumar (Penn) preparing to fly to Amsterdam and meet Harold’s dream girl, neighbor Maria (Paula Garcés). You’d expect them to get tangled up in airport security, but they make it onto the plane and into the tiny bathroom, where Kumar can’t resist taking a puff of his special no-smoke bong. It’s no surprise than an Indian-American wielding a battery-powered bong on an airplane is doomed, and before too long Harold and Kumar have been shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, shown no mercy from the crazed Homeland Security officer Ron (Rob Corddry).
It takes them all of five minutes to escape, thanks to some handy real terrorists in the next cell, and from there they’re on the run through the deep South, hoping to make it to Texas to break up the wedding between Kumar’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) and her politically connected fiancée Colton (Eric Winter). Their adventures involve a bottomless (as opposed to topless) party in Miami, a creepy trailer in Alabama, a Klan rally, an urban neighborhood’s basketball game, and, of course, a run-in with Neil Patrick Harris, who takes them to what might actually be the best little whorehouse in Texas.
Mixed in with the madness, as in the first one, are a lot of jabs of America’s simultaneous racism and fear of sounding racist. Corddry’s Homeland Security agent is so flagrantly racist he tries to tempt Jewish witnesses with a jangling bag of pennies and actually wipes his ass with the Bill of Rights. Ed Helms shows up in an interrogation scene as an interpreter who can’t understand that Harold’s parents can speak English. The pokes at racism were funny enough in the first movie, but when linked in this way to the American government they take on a deeper, more barbed meaning. And given that Harold and Kumar escape prison with the help of terrorists, the movie deftly avoids doing anything remotely like defending terrorism. When one of the angry Al-Qaeda members tells Kumar that Americans need to eat fewer donuts and pay attention to the world, Kumar shouts back, “Fuck you! Donuts are awesome!” Case closed.
Cho and Penn continue being the best part of the series—it’s hard to imagine the first one succeeding without their charm and camaraderie. Penn even gets a chance to show off his real acting chops, in a flashback to college when Vanessa helped him break out of his nerd shell. The men make Harold and Kumar enough fun to spend time with, even when the jokes get slow and repetitive. Same goes for Neil Patrick Harris, who tries valiantly to make his on-screen persona different from the character he plays each week on How I Met Your Mother; it doesn’t really work except when Harris takes mushrooms, which is something no one on CBS primetime ever gets to do.
Harold and Kumar is a bit grosser than Judd Apatow’s usual fare, and won’t have quite the same crossover appeal as the equally stoned Knocked Up. But its fans will leave the theater happy. Provided they ever make it to the theater to begin with. Hard to smoke in a public place, you know.