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Review

‘Harold and Kumar’ sequel presents wry view of US culture

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May 1, 2008

Whoever thought that an all-night hunt for burgers would have turned into a wry commentary on American culture? Such was the case with “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” an unassuming stoner comedy with a surprising amount of smarts embedded in the script.

  After generating all sorts of laughs with raunchy gags and jabs at ethnic stereotypes, the flick’s sequel, the equally self-explanatory “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” has arrived to up the ante. It does just that, but what it also does is surpass its predecessor, not just in sheer hilarity, but also in the intelligence it manages to sneak into the party.

  “Guantanamo Bay” kicks off mere minutes after the ending of “White Castle,” with Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) on their way to Amsterdam. But an unfortunate misunderstanding with a bong on the flight ends with the guys being branded terrorists and shipped off to, where else, prison in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay. 

  Luckily, they manage to escape not long after their arrival, setting off a massive manhunt headed by an over zealous Homeland Security official (Rob Corddry). As Harold and Kumar make their way to Texas to get in touch with the one guy who could clear their names, the road trip they endure is just as insane as their first one, replete with stylish rednecks, a Klan meeting and, of course, yet another run-in with the sex-crazed Neil Patrick Harris (as “himself”).

  If “White Castle” aimed just to show that the frat boy comedy didn’t belong exclusively to white guys, then it’s fair to say that “Guantanamo Bay” is a little more grandiose in terms of scope. When you think about it, “Guantanamo Bay” is an extremely skillful film to be able to humorously tackle such touchy topics and still leave the audience in stitches. 

  Maybe it’s because the filmmakers aren’t trying to make something that’s going to change the world, but merely to look at life in post-Sept. 11 America through the eyes of a couple innocent potheads. Of course, for those who may be made uneasy by the idea of a politically savvy, mainstream comedy, let me say that “Guantanamo Bay” offers up the finest selection of pot, sex and bodily function jokes this side of an “American Pie” sequel.

  What also helps everything come together is the teamwork of Cho and Penn as our hapless heroes, a perfectly endearing straight man/goofy guy team for the slacker generation (though the subplot about Kumar pining for his ex-girlfriend that drives the story is a little tiring). Plus, viewers get the added bonus of “Daily Show” alumnus Corddry as quite possibly the most hilarious racist to grace the silver screen.

  “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” won’t change the face of comedy as we know it. Looking back so far at what 2008 has given us, we should feel doubly grateful that a flick has arrived that’s not only really funny, but really smart to boot.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.