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HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris
Directors: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2008

“My God. North Korea and Al Qaeda working together. This is bigger than I thought.”

Film ***1/2

Three years ago, we were introduced to a couple of guys whose simple plan of going out for some White Castle burgers turned out to be one insane, frequently hilarious journey. As a result, we were given the biggest pair of stoner characters since Cheech and Chong, and it should surprise no one that they ended up being a funnier pair. Shot on a low budget, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle became not only a sleeper summer hit, but also a cult phenomenon in the DVD and video market.

The cult status has resulted in the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Having enjoyed the first movie, which ended up being way funnier than I expected it to be, I was way skeptic as to how this follow up would turn out. Well, as Maxwell Smart might say, would you believe…it is actually more hilarious than its predecessor?

As we all know, sequels are infamous for not exceeding the quality of the original movie, even though you get a rare case every so often like The Godfather Part II, Terminator 2, Bad Boys II, not to mention the absolute best recent example, The Dark Knight. But never in my wildest dreams did I expect a sequel to a stoner comedy superior in any way, shape or form. A successful sequel is enough of an accomplishment, but a sequel in the comedy genre is an extremely rare case.

Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the first movie, pull double duty this time as directors. The story actually picks up where the previous movie ended. If you recall the very last scene of the movie, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) decide to catch a flight to Amderstam, for two reasons. The first reason being…well all too obvious if you’re aware of the two’s frequent tendencies to light one up, the second reason is that Harold’s new girlfriend is there, and Kumar pressures him to track her down.

During the flight, dimwitted Kumar can resist the urge to get high, even though he’s moments away from landing in the “weed capital of the world”. Nonetheless, he goes into the restroom to smoke by way of a smokeless bong he’s invented. The door to the restroom cracks open the moment he tries to light up, at which point he’s spotted, accused of being a terrorist, and sending fellow passengers into a crazed frenzy.

The two are then detained at the very airport they just took off from. They are interrogated by the increasingly suspicious and insane Agent Fox (Rob Corddry) of Homeland Security. He is quick to accuse them of being terrorists and funding their supposed terrorist attack through drugs. Oh, and the Asian and Indian factor also further Fox’s suspicions, which further indicates that Kumar is no longer the reigning idiot of this movie.

As a result, our two heroes find themselves in the magical kingdom that is Guantanamo Bay. Within minutes of their arrival, they do manage to have a close encounter with torture, though it’s definitely not the sort of torture that is said to occur there. But through a certain gross and awfully funny circumstance I won’t even bother mentioning, they manage to escape Guantanamo Bay and hitch a ride back to America on a boat with some soon to be illegal immigrants.

Once back on their home turf, they plan to head to Texas, where a college friend of Harold’s happens to have somewhat of a connection to the President. The two are hoping that he can help clear their names. It also turns out that this same guy is about to marry Kumar’s ex-girlfriend, whom he is still not over.

Having just now realized that I’m being way too serious in describing the plot, I should probably switch gears a bit and get into the funny stuff, which is in multiple and explosive doses. Like the first movie, it mixes in a tremendous amount of extreme gross out gags with hilarious moments with underlying social commentary involving race and politics. The crude humor and sight gags are right on par with both Judd Apatow and Farrelly Brothers fare (two words: Bottomless Party), but it’s the latter set of jokes that really make this film a phenomenally hilarious experience, especially a sequence where Harold and Kumar end up in a black neighborhood, which doesn’t play out the way you think it’s going to.

In the two lead roles, John Cho and Kal Penn are once again in solid, hilarious form. They succeed in portraying these characters not in a traditionally dumb Cheech and Chong way. Instead, they’re more like the stoner version of Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple, Kumar being the careless idiot and Harold being the straight laced type cleaning up after the other’s mess.

However, the one who truly owns this movie is Rob Corddry, who is absolutely on fire as a raving lunatic of a government agent who takes things too far in his every scene. Corddry, who was a true standout during his run on The Daily Show, has popped up in a number of films since his fake journalist days. But none of those movies gave him much of an opportunity to showcase his comedic talents, where as this movie gives him so much to do and in the perfect type of role no less. He occupies about 85 percent of the funniest lines in this movie, which is saying something considering he’s essentially a supporting character.

Speaking of scene-stealers, I haven’t even mentioned the return appearance of Neil Patrick Harris in his signature role of Neil Patrick Harris. If you found his addiction for stealing cars and strippers mind-blowing in the first movie, you haven’t seen anything yet. Neil manages to reveal a much more perverted side of him, and his final scene in the movie pretty much produced one of the loudest, longest laughs I’ve ever had in my life.

Oh, and I can’t dare leave out an appearance from none other than our Commander in Chief, and no matter what your opinion of the guy is, I guarantee that you will see him an whole new light.

Strangely enough, the only real flaw associated with the movie is the title. It’s actually a fresh and funny title for a follow up. The problem is that Guantanamo Bay itself is only featured for about three minutes before Harold & Kumar make their escape, and is never mentioned again for the rest of the movie. At the same time, I shouldn’t be complaining much since there have been countless bad movies with really good titles.

It has been a very good year for comedies, as proven by the likes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Smart and even You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. But as it stands, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is the one movie so far in 2008 that I found myself laughing hard, uproariously and quite frequently. It’s a truly rare find in that it manages to be not only a superior sequel in general, but a superior comedy sequel, and I’m convinced it will hold that title for a really long time…until maybe the release of Harold & Kumar 3, which was recently announced.

Video ****

New Line once again illustrates their tremendous contribution to top of the line DVD presentations with this release. Though we don’t necessarily watch a movie like this to be wondered by the directing and cinematography, the transfer still manages to produce a remarkably clear and crisp picture with great image detail and colors.

Audio ***1/2

One also has to give New Line credit for taking advantage of the most superior form of sound quality, even when it’s for a movie that doesn’t really require it. In other words, a splendid 5.1 EX mix has been provided for this release, thus making each and every funny moment delivered with a bit more zing. Whether it’s a crowded set piece, the variety of music on the soundtrack (which there is), or simple dialogue delivery, this is one sound mix that delivers some unexpected surprises.

Features ****

When you take into consideration that many 2-Disc releases these days don’t seem to feature the extravagant level of extras that should always be included with a multiple disc release, you have to credit New Line with making the effort to include as much as they can, which they have certainly done with this Unrated 2-Disc Special Edition release.

Disc One contains two commentaries; the first one features Jon Cho, Kal Penn along with writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the second one has Hurwitz and Schlossberg joined by “The Real Harold Lee” and actor James Adomian, who plays the President. Also included is a really cool interactive feature called “Dude, Change the Movie”, where you have the opportunity to change the course of the story and actually see Harold and Kumar in different circumstances as result.

On Disc Two, we get a four-part featurette titled “Inside the World of Harold and Kumar”, as well as a plentiful amount of Deleted/Extended Scenes, a Bush PSA, and three trailers for the movie.

Summary:

Chances are you might not believe me when I say this, but Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is one of the year’s biggest and funniest surprises. It’s one comedy that isn’t afraid to be extreme in the way of sight gags and gross out moments, as well as razor sharp in its jokes dealing with social themes. My suggestion, see it and be prepared to get blazed by the excess of hilarity!

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