On my way to see “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”, I tried to get into the same head space I was in when I saw the first one. You see, I wasn’t always a member of the Harold and Kumar congregation. When the first one opened in theaters, I was not interested.
“From the creators of ‘Dude, Where’s My Car…’ ” they said.
“Keep it,” I replied.
But then I started hearing murmurs from people I respected telling me that it was actually pretty funny.
“But…it’s a stoner comedy,” I argued. “Remember “Half Baked”? That starred frickin’ Dave Chapelle and it was still a disaster. Besides “Death to Smoochy”, it’s Jon Stewart’s favorite bad-career-move punch line.”
All that aside, I am usually willing to start any movie that I can procure for free from the library. And that, my friends, is how “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” ended up in my DVD player.
I sat stone-faced during the opening credits. Arms crossed, I dared the movie to draw even a snicker out of me. And then…it did. By the time the cheetah showed up, I had to admit I was having a pretty good time. When Kumar and Roldy sang at the top of their lungs along to Wilson Phillips, I came to terms with my new found love. I immediately watched the movie again with commentary.
Sequels are rarely a good idea and I wasn’t in the mood to get my heart broken but I was exited to hang out with my favorite odd couple again.
The movie opens with the two heading to Amsterdam to find Roldy’s new girlfriend, Maria. Kumar, true to Id-laden form, decides to smuggle some weed onto the plane. To Amsterdam. Panic ensues when the already on-edge passengers mistake the boNG for a boMB, resulting in Kumar and his “accomplice” being shuffled off to the titular Cuban prison.
Unlike getting to White Castle, escaping from Guantanamo Bay is, apparently, pretty easy. Their challenge this time around is making their way to Texas to find the one man who can exonerate them; an acquaintance with government ties who just happens to be the fiancé of Kumar’s lost love. On the way they are pursued by an overzealous and naive FBI agent (the brilliant Rob Corddry) and must also contend with the KKK. And as an early promotional poster suggested, Neil Patrick Harris is back as the sex-crazed, drug-addled…Neil Patrick Harris.
I was apprehensive that this would be the worst part of the movie. The reason the NPH gag worked so well in the first film was because we didn’t see it coming.
“What’s the deal with Neil Patrick Harris?” Roldy asked after their initial run-in. “Why is he so horny?”
Why indeed. But it turns out there is more funny to be gleaned from the NPH persona. No spoilers here but rest assured, the unicorn pays off. Plus Neil Patrick Harris really has that character nailed.
Another highlight concerns a flashback to college where we learn that Kumar wasn’t always so fancy-free and Roldy wasn’t always so Old Navy. Granted, these are moments for the already converted. Many of you are probably still thinking, “But the first one looked so dumb. Did we really need two of these? I’d rather see what is currently in the works for that delightful Dax Shepard.”
WHY THE H & K MOVIES WORK:
Yes there are gross-out jokes and plenty o’ Porky’s-esque nudity. Sure the film opens with a joke about crapping. I agree that prison rape humor is played out. But in this context it works because Harold and Kumar are unique protagonists. Not because they’re Asian leads, although that is tragically unusual. Nay, they are unique because they are completely accessible. I gleefully followed their quest to go to White Castle amidst persecution from bullies and awkward encounters with the opposite sex because I know those guys. I have been those guys (albeit a female version). They may be above average in the looks department, but they also have job stress and pressure from their parents. They get into some wacky adventures, some of which might seem pretty contrived, but in the end they want the same things we all want: Love, tasty food and the service of justice. The “stoner comedy” is still an unfortunate genre, but Harold and Kumar rise above it because it’s not a movie about smoking weed. Not really. It’s about being a citizen of 21st Century America. And it’s hilarious.