Thursday, May 01, 2008

REVIEW: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Probably the most "shocking" element of the purported "war on terror satire" in "H&K2" is how unconcerned the actual movie is about making it shocking. Yes, the film features (among other elements) an Indian man morphing into a turban-headed terrorist in the eyes of a panicky airline passenger, sexual-abuse of inmates at the titular prison and an ignorant, racist Homeland Security agent (Rob Cordry) who "tortures" a black suspect by threatening to pour out a can of grape soda and - literally - wipes his ass with the 5th Ammendment; but it regards them as being essentially no more or less perilous to the heroes as the myriad non-political roadblocks also thrown in their way. The film takes some of the most divisive "hot button" issues of our time and tosses them off with the same slacker-ly ease it does reliable road-movie/stoner gags about rednecks, hookers, KKK members, bad drugs and misbehaving animals. Call it the height of bad taste or the subtlest form of subversion, but I call it pretty funny.

The original "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" got on by taking things easy: Road comedy is easy, because you can just go from location to location and joke to joke. Stoner comedy is easy because it allows for random lunacy. And it cast as it's dual leads Kal Penn (Kumar) and John Cho (Harold,) both of whom had made their bones as sidekicks and were well-equipped for a film that relied on neither shoving their way to the forefront. Even the central hook of doing a mainstream comedy with TWO "ethnic" leads went down easy, as casual-racism turns out to be just something the pair 'deal with' no different than random cougars or bad trips. #2 offers up more of the same.

It's (literally) mere hours after the climax the first film, and the duo are heading off to Amsterdam in pursuit of Harold's recently near-consumated crush. En-route, they encounter Kumar's former girlfriend - on her way to marrying a rich, politically-connected douchebag in Texas. A misunderstanding on the plane involving Kumar's attempt to field-test his newly-invented "smokeless bong" gets them branded as terror-suspects, and the assignment of Cordry's overzealous agent to their case means a one-way ticket to Gitmo. Fortunately for the boys, the prison's security systems leaves a little something to be desired and - one satisfyingly-electrocuted Al Qaeda fellow later - they're hoofing it to Texas, hoping that the aforementioned Douchebag can use his White House connections to fix the misunderstanding... and Kumar giving more than a little thought to busting up the wedding and getting The Girl back.

The model at play here is much more Hope & Crosby than Cheech & Chong, as the stoner humor is basically an excuse to play fast and loose with the rules of logic and pacing. The REAL star-attraction is the natural, beat-for-beat chemistry between the two leads as they bounce from one outlandish situation to another. Despite some of the topical subject matter, it's not really out to take anyone down or score any points, which winds up being helpful because you can't precisely predict which direction the jokes are going to go in: For example, the trailers have already spoiled the fact that the boys eventually encounter President Bush (an impersonator in heavy makeup) himself, few would've guessed the way the film opts to portray him and what role he ultimately plays.

It's funny, basically.

FINAL RATING: 7/10