Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
No, you stay classy, Neil Patrick Harris.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/25/2008
Directors: Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Nail Patrick Harris

If there was ever going to be a film that could portray George W. Bush in a positive light, I would have put money on it being “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”. It’s necessary to alter one’s mind in order to think of our present Commander-in-Chief as someone you could be in the room with and not shudder. More on that later, let’s get on to the review.

After just making it to White Castle in their last film, the sequel picks up minutes afterwards as our lovable stoners have decided to chase Harold’s dream girl (Paula Garcés) to Amsterdam … and smoke some pot in the process. Through an absurd, yet appropriate considering the genre, sequence of events, Harold and Kumar become terrorist fugitives – at least in the eyes of an overzealous nutball from Homeland Security (Rob Corddry). It’s up to our heroes’ scrappy ability to overcome from there on out.

Look, let’s just say what we mean here. You’re not going to this film for plot … you’re not going to this film for outstanding acting … you’re not going to this film to check off your potential award-worthy cinema list. You’re here to let loose, divert your mind and revel in zany antics.

To that end, the film works pretty well. While I have issues with the main story, since it’s set up and resolved in haphazard, almost careless fashion – what makes “HKEGB” (the acronym sounds like something you cough up) fun and worthwhile are the supporting cast and background action.

Obviously, you don’t do a sequel in this franchise without making sure Neil Patrick Harris is back on-board. His hilarious cameo in the first film elevated it from pleasant stoner flick to something nearing comic preciousness. This time around, Neil helps out Harold and Kumar by giving them a ride when they’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Whether NPH’s penchant for hallucinogenic drug use or brothel patronage is really of help to them is of little consequence; quite simply, it’s what makes this film worth your time.

I hate to sound negative because I really did enjoy the film. But if you took NPH out of it, I’m not sure I would have bothered. Call it a childhood fascination with “Doogie Howser, M.D.” (Nurse Wanda to be specific), my respect for his turn as Mark in the La Jolla Playhouse production of “Rent”, or adoration for his characters in funny films like “Undercover Brother” and “Starship Troopers”. (Wait, that one wasn’t a comedy? But it was hilarious. Denise Richards was a freakin’ spaceship pilot! You can’t make comedy that good. Wait, that wasn’t supposed to be funny either? Fooled me.) Whatever you want to say about it, I just love watching his characters and he steals the film, as I expected him to.

There are plenty of other supporting elements that help keep the film above board as well. David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas return as Harold and Kumar’s pot-smoking friends, Goldstein and Rosenberg. I think adding them to the main story as a whole would have made this film truly worthy of comedy gold but at least we get a little bit of their wacky antics.

Like the first film, when Harold and Kumar must get their car repaired and end up in a backwoods shed where stereotypes and clichés get turned on their head, the film does include a similarly themed trip to an apparent shack in the Alabama woods. Things aren’t all that they seem … or are they? … and while it was a pleasant sidestep on their journey, it’s clear resemblance to the first film’s scene made it a little less enjoyable. (Though I did appreciate bringing back Christopher Meloni in another disguised role – here as a KKK leader; as a gross tow truck driver in the first film.)

Now let’s get back to Bush. Wait, that sounds wrong. How about a bottomless party? You’ll have to watch the film for that one – No … let’s talk G.W. Bush. Since they were already playing with some sensitive issues like 9/11 and torture practices at Guantanamo Bay, that the filmmakers decided to have an actor (James Adomian) portray our outgoing (hooray) President isn’t much of a stretch.

They still portray him as a buffoon and initially the audience was predictably hostile towards him. However, as soon as he starts smoking pot with Harold and Kumar, it’s clear to everyone that this is the George W. Bush people knew in college and probably would never have elected to any political office in the first place, let alone the Presidency. This bit was funny, even though it became predictable, and only adds to the mythology of the characters.

Whether you’re going to enjoy this film boils down to your love of stoner films, Neil Patrick Harris and/or the first installment in the franchise. While I like all three, I can’t quite muster up much more than a solid 3 out of 5 for “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”.

Maybe some of that is due to the writers of the first film becoming the two-headed writer/directors of the sequel; tighter direction might have made a difference. Maybe it’s not enough of Paula Garcés, the supposed reason Harold & Kumar have left the house in the first place. Or maybe it’s because I’m not a stoner and some of the nuances are lost on me … unlike a guy in the front row of the screening who after spending the first hour hooting and yelling back dialogue at the screen, went on to proclaim near the end of the movie that he was far too wasted.

Still, if and when you go and check this out – make sure to stay to the absolute end of the credits … ultimate redemption awaits (so much so, I almost gave the film another point … almost).