As far as sequels go, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (huh, Guantanamo isn’t in Apple’s dictionary) is superior to the first. It’s far more absurd and the characters have comfortably become a modern comedy duo. Their adventures are modernized comedy bits, which work due to the movie’s absence of realistic pretense, but where Harold & Kumar is different is in its willingness to discuss race in America.
The humor generally falls into four categories. Kal Penn as a brainless male, getting high, race and the American identity. Even though Harold & Kumar cops out a little when it comes to Bush and his responsibility for American xenophobia, maybe portraying him as a drunk stoner with father issues is more effective (it certainly is in the comedic sense). The script nicely works the comedy into convenient vignettes, a grandiose road movie on a limited budget.
As writers, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg run their characters through a bunch of funny situations, work in flashbacks and dream sequences to great effect (Harold & Kumar is, in the best possible way, something of a live action “Family Guy”), but their directing skills are nil. There’s almost no visual tone to the movie and the effects sequences are atrocious. I suppose they can sit the camera down and let action play in front of it well enough, but their composition makes the movie feel like a direct-to-video teen comedy.
What elevates the movie from that confusion are Penn and John Cho. This time, Penn’s got a love interest, Danneel Harris (big shock, that one’s not in Apple’s dictionary either) and it really helps the movie. Harris is likable, if bereft of dramatic ability, and Penn makes up for anything she’s not bringing to her scenes. Cho’s good as the straight man, but thinking about it after seeing it, it’s sort of surprising just how little he’s got to do in the story. Sight gags mostly.
The rest of the supporting cast varies. Rob Corddry’s funny because of his dialogue, but he can’t actually act. The whole time, I wondered what it’d be like if they’d gotten Domenick Lombardozzi from “The Wire” for the role. It would have worked a lot better. Roger Bart’s weak. Neil Patrick Harris is, no shock, real funny. Hurwitz and Schlossberg write some of the movie’s better material for Harris scenes.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is something more than a cheap diversion, due to that racial humor; it’s a good ice cream. And Hurwitz and Schlossberg are much better at the best pop culture references than anyone else. They really get them into the script naturally.
Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Greg Shapiro and Nathan Kahane; released by New Line Cinema.
Starring Kal Penn (Kumar), John Cho (Harold), Rob Corddry (Ron Fox), Roger Bart (Dr. Beecher), David Krumholtz (Goldstein), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), Jack Conley (Deputy Frye), Paula Garcés (Maria), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eric Winter (Colton) and Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris).