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Surprise, stoner flick politically poignant

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2008

A lot has changed since Harold and Kumar last partied their way onto the big screen way back in '04, White Castle burgers in hand and sex on their minds.

Courtesy Of New Line Cinema
Courtesy Of New Line Cinema

Issues of politics and race have muscled their way to the cultural center stage, perhaps even outpacing recreational eating as a pastime in this election year. So studious Harold and stoner Kumar get with the spirit of the times in "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay," the uneven and too-long but occasionally hilarious sequel to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." The new film bounces between the raunchy and the relevant, the profane and the political like Homer Simpson at a bake sale.

The story picks up not long after the end of "White Castle," with investment-banker Harold Lee (John Cho) and med-student friend Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) off to Amsterdam to win the heart of Maria (Paula Garces), the woman on whom Harold was crushing on in the first film. But the would-be romantic European getaway is hijacked by events, as well as H&K's dorky stupidity.

First there's a confrontation with a TSA inspector in the security line, but that's just the appetizer for the banquet of troubles that greet them once onboard. Suffice it to say, it's enough to get them hauled off the plane, branded as terrorists and sent to detention at Guantanamo Bay. They flee, first to South Florida, then to Central Texas, in search of help in getting their reputations back.

As with "White Castle," much of the humor is about as sophisticated as a college kegger. Within the opening minutes, there's a brief, sex-related sight gag that no doubt will repulse as many viewers as it entertains. Their pal Neil Patrick Harris, once again playing the Bizarro version of himself, returns with an even bigger sexual appetite. And the whole men-in-prison scenario plays out like "Oz" meets "Beavis and Butt-head."

Such moments are cheek-by-jowl with a goofball skewering of racial profiling, the Patriot Act, radical Muslim terrorists and life in general in these panicky times. Like with "White Castle," Cho and Penn's mere presence as young, Asian-American guys - still a rarity in terms of Hollywood leading men - sets "Guantanamo Bay" apart from other slob comedies.

Rob Corddry, as the authoritarian yet imbecilic and racist Homeland Security agent Ron Fox who becomes obsessed with nabbing our dynamic duo, plays the same kind of self-important know-nothing he personified in his appearances on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Fox is a guy who treats the Bill of Rights like a roll of Charmin. (Another Stewart alum, Ed Helms, plays Corddry's equally idiotic and linguistically challenged interpreter.)

Still, for all of its spitwads tossed at today's politics, "Guantanamo Bay" is surprisingly soft in its treatment of President Bush. Harold and Kumar meet up with Bush in Texas (long story), and the president (played by James Adomian) comes across as a nice guy who's just a bit out of his depth. The three actually bond. Can "Harold & Kumar & George" be next?

Yet for all of its comic anarchy, the movie may actually do something that more sober-minded films such as "Lions for Lambs" could not: seduce audiences into seeing a movie that's even peripherally about the current political situation. "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" is not totally an escape from reality.



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