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New Review: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Laughter

April 24, 2008

At the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas on March 8, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” opened to a favorable crowd of 2,100. While the film premiered four years after the sleeper hit “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” the film opens the next day after their burger run. Harold and Kumar have planned a trip to Amsterdam to meet the girl of Harold’s dreams but due to a misunderstanding on their flight the duo ends up en route to spending life in Guantanamo Bay. After a vulgar but comical scene, the pair escapes (hence the title) and the adventure begins.

Schlossberg and co-writer and director Jon Hurwitz discussed the evolution of the film at the Drugs, Race & Politics: Harold and Kumar panel. According to the writers, the first film was not a box office success but DVD rental and sales skyrocketed making the film a financial smash. Yet, even before the film was successful, they had intended a sequel. Schlossberg and Hurwitz intended to make the sequel about Harold and Kumar traveling to Amsterdam but during the time they were developing the story “Euro Trip” came out. So they threw out some new ideas and eventually built the movie around the concept of racial profiling. An amusing one-liner in the film nods to this development. John Cho (Harold) explains that the politics in the film were a device, “to amp the stakes more than anything else. The film doesn’t have anything to say.”

While the title may imply a politically charged film, according to Kal Penn, the film is really about two friends. Hayden Schlossberg, writer, said at a panel discussion on the film that, “our goal is for the audience to be laughing constantly. It’s really about the vagina jokes.” Neil Patrick Harris, co-star, concurred by announcing, “there’s a great deal of vagina in this film.” Having not yet seen the film when I heard this, I thought perhaps they were being modest as the film overtly challenges American violations of first amendment rights. Yet after seeing the film, it is true. It is just a vagina film. However, with that expectation in mind, you can enjoy the film for what it’s worth.

Yet, what was so great about Harold and Kumar Goes to White Castle is that the concept was simple and fun. In this film the political backdrop gets in the way rather than enhancing the character development of Harold and Kumar. The film is quick to offend but is an equal opportunist, making fun of southerners to Cubans. However, rather than challenging stereotypes, the film reinforces them. This bitterly disappointed me. Just because they are traveling through the south, the duo comes across a KKK meeting and an inbred couple. Sigh. Where the film does challenge stereotypes is when Rob Corrdry (the despicable bad guy in the film, Ron Fox best known as a commentator on the Jon Stewart Daily Show) comes across a small African American community and in the spirit of “Borat” opens up a can of grape soda to try and get a guy to talk. The man, a soft spoken orthodontist, shakes his head in disgust.

However, no matter what weaknesses the film may have, something is compelling about the two characters Harold and Kumar. Even though the subversive humor of White Castle gets a little lost in Escape From Guantanamo Bay, Kumar (Kal Penn) and Harold (John Cho) are delightful. Their friendship development really is the crux of the film despite the romantic angles and travels along the way. The writers dug a little deeper into the past of Harold and Kumar and provides some funny insights into their friendship. If you are a fan of the crass humor, this film serves up loads of quick laughs. And while I won’t ruin the surprise for you, the pair do run across some highly important political figures with surprising results. This film is what it is and as long as you don’t have expectations beyond a quick thrill, you can enjoy the humorous dialogue. Not to mention, Neil Patrick Harris, as his semi-self is truly the highlight of the film.

The film opens tomorrow at the Oxford Malco Studio.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2008 8:19 pm

    As you didn’t think much of Harold and Kumar, there’s a much funnier, sharper and cheaper comedy about Guantanamo Bay on iTunes, called ‘Jesus: The Guantanamo Years’.

    There’s a YouTube clip here:

    Here’s what critics made of that one:

    “Way beyond superficial religious satire… Absorbing, intricately woven, challenging and… highly entertaining.”
    – Malcolm Hay, TimeOut

    “Displays superb humanity… Miraculous. *****”
    – The National Student

    “The greatest stand-up story ever told… Funny, thoughtful, impassioned…Deserves a comic sainthood.”
    – The Stage

    Jesus Christ returns to earth, but He doesn’t get through U.S. immigration because He’s a bearded, Middle-Eastern guy, prepared to die as a martyr.

    Christ is detained and interrogated under the Patriot Act. He is then sent to Guantanamo Bay, which He describes as “a maximum-security prison, designed and run by Kentucky Fried Chicken: there are horrible uniforms; battery-size wire-mesh cages; and most of the staff are ignorant teenagers with no alternative career prospects.”

    In His first one-man show for almost two millennia, Jesus talks candidly about His time in Guantanamo, His relationship with His Father, and His on-going legal battle with Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    This award-winning one-man show has delighted live audiences from the Edinburgh Fringe to the USA, and from London’s West End to Pakistan. Within a month of its on-line launch in March 2008, it reached the iTunes Top 10 Comedy Albums in the UK, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Japan.

    ” Well-thought-out and cleverly written… a truly fresh take on the US, Guantanamo Bay and the war on terror…The face of this year’s [Edinburgh] Fringe”
    – The Scotsman

    “A rising star on the Irish stand-up scene”
    – Time

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