Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. That they do. After attempting to fly to Amsterdam to meet up with Harold’s (John Cho) crush from the last movie, Maria (Paula Garcés), he and Kumar (Kal Penn), are mistaken as terrorists and sentenced to a countless number of years in the joint by incompetent Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). The dynamic due promptly break out of the Cuban prison, with help from other people trying to escape, and find themselves on the run for the rest of the film.
So, yes, it’s time for another road movie with our stoner friends, Harold and Kumar. The difference, and one of the few things keeping this from being a remake of the first film — although it does, at times, still very much feel this way — is that their goal is not to get somewhere; it’s to get away from a specific place, and from specific people. In this case, it’s every agent of every security agency in the United States, because the assumption is that Al-Qaeda and North Korea are now working together. Because, you know, Korean-Americans and Indian-Americans are automatically working for North Korea and Al-Qaeda.
The strength of the last film, Go to White Castle, was the subversion of what you expect to happen in a given scene. A redneck in the woods offers to fix the car, and you’re thinking horror movie. When it turns out that the boil-covered man actually does just want to help, what’s been built up is released and because of the characters and their expectations, you laugh. That, and the satire of the racism present in American culture was pure gold.
It makes sense, then, that Escape from Guantanamo Bay does the same thing that worked in the last film. It somehow feels more daring than last time. Perhaps it was around the time the Klu Klux Klan got involved that I thought that this film was trying hard to offend, and as such was funnier, but I do know that I laughed more during this film than the last one. Not to take any credit away from the original, but this one had me burst out laughing a few times, while it only got a few good chuckles.
Also returning to the cast is Neil Patrick Harris, in the same over-the-top, idealized role that was so funny last time. He gets two big moments here, and also introduces unicorns to us — he’s tripping on more magic mushrooms than a human being should be able to handle for most of his character’s screen time. It’s a smaller but perhaps funnier role this time around, and it’s almost a shame that Patrick Harris didn’t stick around for a longer role. A three-person band of heroes might have been even more enjoyable.
Escape from Guantanamo Bay actually offers us two villains, one of whom doesn’t get revealed until close to the end. The first is the incompetent Homeland Security guy, played by Rob Corddry, whose every scene is a joy. If you’re easily offended, you might just lose it when he starts wasting grape soda to intimidate a group of black people, or when he throws some pennies on a table while interrogating a couple of Jews, but it’s all done in good nature, I believe, and Corddry plays the role very effectively.
The main secondary plot this time around involves Kumar dwelling on the past, as he let his girlfriend, Vanessa (Daneel Harris), leave. She’s now marrying a man named Colton (Eric Winter), who works in the White House. You guessed it: this allows for George W. Bush (portrayed by James Adomian), to make an appearance. I wasn’t actually too fond of the job Adomian does, or most of the jokes made during this scene; it’s far more about self-reflection than anything else anyway, but the attempted jokes fell flat.
There are a few other scenes that felt too long and could have either been trimmed or removed altogether. This film runs longer than the first, and this kind of humor really doesn’t deserve to be given more than 90 minutes. It runs out of things to say, and it starts to wear thin. It’s probably possible to cut out 10 minutes of this movie, somewhere — perhaps start with when Kumar has a dream about making out with a bag of weed; that went on for too long — and not lose any of the jokes.
John Cho and Kal Penn prove to us that they’re still up to playing these characters. Escape from Guantanamo Bay actually takes place directly after the first film — minutes after, in fact — and the two appear exactly as they did four years prior. They still have great chemistry, seemingly enjoy each other’s company, and have solid comedic timing. Because of all this, it’s easy to watch them just talk to one another, and it results in a fun watch.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is a film that I found funnier than the first film, although it still could have easily benefited from some trimming. However, the additions it makes, the risks that it takes, and the rules that it breaks ensures that it’s easily worth seeing, especially if you were a fan of Go to White Castle. It makes solid criticisms and it’s a lot of fun, so I recommend it. Make sure you stay through the credits, though; you’ll see why after you watch it.