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Review

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

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May 1, 2008

In 2004, Harold and Kumar went to White Castle. The result was an explosion of slider-obsessed reefer madness. It’s unclear whether Harold and Kumar went to White Castle because of the craze, or if the craze started because Harold and Kumar went to White Castle. Either way, they’ve returned, called out of hazy retirement for another tour of cannabis, coughed on by pubescents across America who identify smoking weed not with euphoria but with rebellion against “the man.”

  This time fleeing from the joint, cult heroes “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.” I just hope these onscreen antics don’t lead to a growing popularity of late-night visits to Gitmo….

  Picking up where the first ended, and promising enough bongs, boobs and boners for everyone, Harold and Kumar board a plane bound for Amsterdam so Harold (John Cho) can find his dream girl. On the plane, Kumar (Kal Penn) has his “smokeless” bong mistaken for a bomb, and the duo gets shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. They escape (duh) and make their way to Texas, where the fiancé of Kumar’s old flame (whom he still loves) can help them get out of trouble.  You can already tell exactly where the plot is going, and where it will end up.

  Balding agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) plays the Ahab, relentlessly pursuing the two “terrorists” across country, personifying every negative stereotype there is about the blinded ignorance of Homeland Security.

  The first Harold and Kumar used absurd grotesqueries to mask the sleight-of-hand political and cultural statements it made. A scene of a black man in jail holding a book, which is accused of being a gun, comes to mind. It was these subterfuges mocking societal problems that separated “White Castle” from many of the other stoner joints rolled out recently. 

  Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg return to pen “Guantanamo Bay,” but this time they make no secret of the intended aim of the film: crude and insulting sociopolitical commentary molded in a vat of ethnic racism. 

  The pair, who also direct the film, frame each scene against one of two agendas: over-the-top racial slurs involving trite and bigoted stereotypes (circa forcing confessions from Jews by dumping pennies in front of them, or pouring grape soda out for the same effect on black men) or preach about the growing problems in American government (the climactic encounter with a stoned Bush ends in W not only cussing his dad out, but sermonizing about how people don’t need to trust their government to love their country). 

  It’s not that political satire, even that which is stained by bong water, is a bad thing; at times the intended effect of forcing perverse platitudes into the open for scrutiny is rendered.  But more often than not, “Guantanamo Bay” just comes off as nescient. Unintelligent and tasteless, it loses its punch, devolving into crude insurrection for mutiny’s sake. One minority remarks in the film, “This is insulting!”  Yes, it is.  The only saving grace is the presence of Neil Patrick Harris, back again to ask, “What would NPH do?”

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.