|Kumar (Kal Penn, left) and Harold (John Cho) are on the lam in "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay." (jaimie trueblood/new line cinema)|
"Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" in record time - just one scene. But the Indian-American med-student stoner and his tense Korean-American roommate remain prisoners of the same cruddy filmmaking that made their trip to White Castle a cult hit in 2003. And the political punch the title promises goes largely undelivered.
Both comedies were written and directed by Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz, who demonstrate low-tech faithfulness to the movie's scatological pursuits: Almost every scene looks vomited up.
On his way to Amsterdam, Kumar (Kal Penn) is caught using a homemade smokeless bong in an airplane bathroom. The bong look likes a bomb, and, to the suspicious eye, Kumar looks like an Arab terrorist. The government presumes Harold (John Cho) to be his North Korean accomplice. And so they're dragged to Gitmo, where prison-movie sexual horrors await.
Once they break out, they never stop running. And the adventure they have is a sporadically funny gross-out picaresque. It stretches from a nude house party in Miami to a poor black Alabama neighborhood, to a backwoods Klan rally, to a whorehouse with Neil Patrick Harris reprising his role as a macho version of himself, to a Texas wedding where Kumar's ex is getting married.
As they make their way west, pursued by a homeland security Nazi (Rob Corddry), you realize that Harold and Kumar's brief nightmare incarceration hasn't made them rebellious or angry. It's made them more passive than ever.
Our lovable heroes are shameless cowards. The most impassioned moment involves the recitation of a math poem. Otherwise, Harold and Kumar don't rage against the machine. They get stoned with it, sharing a joint with George W. Bush and hearing his side of things. He sounds wise and a little holy, which is fair, balanced, and extremely surreal. Kumar gives airport security the business - not the president who more or less authorized the duo's imprisonment.
Which raises a concern: Is a truly political stoner movie even possible? The entire point of getting high is to take some of the sting out of life. The movie goes after easy targets and goes soft on the harder issues.
Corddry's character, who manages to cast certain parts of the current government as ruthlessly bigoted, is the film's best satirical device. But Harold and Kumar seem blissfully immune, safely ensconced in fantasyland. Escaping from Guantanamo is a wish only the best pot can grant.