Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Neil Patrick Harris is a golden god in the Harold & Kumar movies. Playing an absurdist version of “himself” — a drugged-out, aggressively hetero star who strikes awe in everyone he meets — “Mr. Patrick Harris,” as a character refers to him, is a libertine guru inspiring heroes Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) to greater depths of decadence. Cheech and Chong had Timothy Leary (in Nice Dreams); Jay and Silent Bob had George Carlin; Harold and Kumar have Neil Patrick Harris. An entire movie spent in the company of “Neil Patrick Harris” would be too much, but we get just enough of him (and his shiny new unicorn) in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay to last us.

The new movie lacks the freshness and surprise of 2004’s Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and it doesn’t up the ante of outrageousness as we may hope it would have, but it’s still giddy brain-dead fun that goes to such pains to debunk stereotypes that the debunking itself becomes a joke. The unstressed point of the first film was that twentysomething guys of Korean and Indian descent were pretty much just like any other American-born slacker-stoners, aside from the cultural expectations and racist assumptions they sought to escape. Here, our heroes take a tour through the American south, encountering fearsome black guys, fearsome rednecks, and fearsome Ku Klux Klansmen. The blacks are harmless, the rednecks’ walls are lined with full bookshelves, and the KKK are just puerile. (Chris Meloni, so memorable as the first film’s Freakshow, scores again here as the KKK Grand Wizard.)

Paranoia and stupidity — their own, too, but mostly others’ — pull Harold and Kumar off an Amsterdam-bound plane and drop them into a cell at Gitmo, where the guards practice unsafe sex upon the inmates. The movie, directed as well as written by the scribes of the first H&K film, may expose some forms of bigotry but traffics unreflectively in others: gay male sex is gross, lesbian action is fun for men to watch, and whores are just whores — I waited in vain for the movie to find some stereotype-breaking twist on the women who work in the brothel frequented by Neil Patrick Harris. In fact, women in general aren’t thought out very well in these movies; Kumar’s lost love (Danneel Harris), due to get hitched to a slimy young Republican, has little to reveal to us aside from her closet weed habit, and Harold’s girlfriend (Paula Garcés) has even less. These are clearly boys’ films, though women with a taste for the lewd, crude and stoopid may not mind.

Thankfully, scant screen time actually unfolds inside Guantanamo Bay; it’s a loose road movie, with some mild topical shots at current events (rendering this sequel a time-capsule movie, as opposed to the more timeless White Castle). George W. Bush is brought out, in the form of impersonator James Adomian, for some toothless shots at his drinking, drugging, and dumbness — hey, man, W’s just a stoner like Harold and Kumar! That doesn’t really work, and neither does Rob Corddry’s cartoonishly idiotic Homeland Security trigger-finger, though Corddry has such obvious fun in the role it’s hard not to share it. A comedy trying to wring laughs out of people and places that have caused real-life misery either needs to go there with both guns blazing, or needs not to go there at all; the movie checks its guns at the airport. For all its fixation on weed and babes, H&K Escape from Guantanamo Bay is missing the heedless, almost inhuman craziness it would need to be a classic. Though Neil Patrick Harris holds up his end of the deal.

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