April 28, 2008

Harold and Kumar 2: Rehashed Potshots Don't Reach Same Highs

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When we last saw Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) back in 2004, they had just redefined the 21st century’s take on the stoner comedy with Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
That movie was widely lauded by critics and moviegoers because it took a chance most modern movies pass on: It starred a Korean-American and an Indian-American who refused to behave like stock characters. In fact, while providing a bizarre mix of gross-out humor, shocking sight gags, drug-induced mayhem and the most surreal road journey since … well, since the first time someone decided to watch The Wizard of Oz on mute with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album as a soundtrack, the first movie also dissected many viewpoints on American race relations. This simple deviation from typical teen comedy formula opened a whole new world of possibilities.
Harold and Kumar never apologized for its absurdity. Scatology and randomness were accepted as logic, meaning went out the car window and each increasingly ridiculous scenario the movie presented caused the viewer to calmly turn to his or her neighbor and say, “Well, I mean, that makes sense.” By keeping the plot simple, the non-sequiturs constant and unexplained and the irony at a minimum, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle succeeded at the box office.
And two heroes for a new stoner/slacker generation were born.
The newest adventure of the Asian-American reefer aficionados begins five minutes after their last adventure ended. Harold and Kumar return from a state-wide scouring of New Jersey to satisfy their marijuana-fueled munchies with White Castle’s disgustingly filling burgers. While in the apartment elevator, Harold has a brief romantic encounter with Maria, a longtime crush, just as she leaves for a week in Amsterdam. Acknowledging Amsterdam’s reputation as “the weed capital … of the world!”, Harold and Kumar head off to Amsterdam, Harold chasing his love and Kumar his love of pot.
The film takes this opportunity to exploit a common racial stereotype: the Indian mistaken as an Arab terrorist. While Kumar foolishly attempts to light a bong on the airplane, the already suspicious passengers assume he is a hijacker. Naturally, Harold is also implicated, and both are immediately shipped off to Guantanamo Bay as suspects of “North Korea and Al-Qaeda working together!”
The remainder of the movie follows the formula of the first. Needless to say, after a series of disturbing scenes, Harold and Kumar escape and flee back to the United States to find the one person who has the connections that can clear them: the fiancée of Kumar’s old romantic flame (Danneel Harris, One Tree Hill). All the while, an awkwardly racist government agent (Rob Corddry) tails in hot pursuit. Ruh-roh.
The plot contains much of what made the first movie a classic, but rehashed and slightly dumber, kind of how a Xerox of an already Xeroxed page isn’t as legible. Neil Patrick Harris appears in another cameo as a psychopathic parody of his Doogie Howser image. Ethnic stereotypes are exploited, then debunked. Fart jokes and gratuitous nudity are interlaced with extended drug humor. Nothing is left sacred. Stops are made at unusual backwoods locales, debauchery-filled parties, ghettos and brothels, to name a few.
By the way, I haven’t given away any of the plot. The movie is self-referential in only one way: It knows it is completely insipid. The bare-bones structure provides a space for increasingly over-the-top shock humor. Included are the infamous “cockmeat sandwich,” a Cyclops, a murdered fawn, a unicorn, a threesome involving a gigantic bag of weed, a jarful of hair and a branded prostitute.
And I still haven’t revealed any of the plot.
Despite the movie’s insipidness, I laughed the whole way through, delighting in its absurdity. If a lowbrow stoner comedy with endless sight gags, a few flat jokes and a less than subtle running commentary on racial tolerance sounds tolerable, see Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay for a couple hours’ worth of entertainment. To be really impressed, watch the first movie again.