" It means buckle your seatbelt Doroty ‘cause Kansas is going bye-bye "
— Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix

MRQE Top Critic

Apocalypse Now: Redux

There are 10 reasons not to miss Apocalypse Now: Redux at the theater —Richard Sharp (review...)

Sponsored links

When Harold met Kumar four years ago, their raunchy, drug-addled post-college road-trip movie was a treat from out of the blue. For a lowbrow comedy, it was surprisingly smart and original.

But now Harold and Kumar are a franchise, no longer original. And any smarts in the movie merely meet our expectations, rather than surprise us. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is more of the same.

Reefer-ugees

There are surreal jokes that work by taking you completely by surprise
There are surreal jokes that work by taking you completely by surprise

The plot picks up the day after Harold and Kumar (Jon Cho and Kal Penn) returned from White Castle. They are taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to Amsterdam so Harold can hook up with his true love. These brown-skinned young, single men are spotted in the airplane lavatory with a battery-powered bong wrapped in wires and electrical tape. The airplane’s racist passengers assume they are Arab terrorists. And since the head of homeland security is ice fishing, his power-mad #2 (Rob Corddry) takes the case and sends them to Gitmo.

Within the first 15 minutes, they escape from Guantanamo Bay, leaving the audience to wonder what’s the rest of the film will be about. They catch a refugee boat to Miami and from there strike out on a road trip to Houston where Kumar’s ex-girlfriend’s fiancĂ©, whose father is friends with president Bush, will surely provide political assistance.

Higher Brain Functions

As with the first film, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay makes its money by appealing to the limbic system of teenagers. There’s lots of gratuitous nudity, including a few closeups that movies didn’t have when I was a teenager. There are many grossout jokes, some that combine with the gratuitous nudity and sex. And whenever the movie stalls and the writers need to bring the plot back under control, they resort to that ancient Greek dramatic technique of dues ex cannabis.

It’s all in good fun, but the best laughs for us adults come when the movie aims a little higher. The best scene bar none involves a meeting with a prominent politician who, like Kumar, has father issues.

There are a batch of surreal jokes that work by taking you completely by surprise. There’s also a game that the movie plays with the audience by setting up a stereotype and then making you guess whether the stereotype will be true or false. Can Jews be bought? Are white southerners more inbred than erudite? Will boyz n tha hood beat down the newcomers or invite them to party? It’s a little like Borat but less awkward and cruel.

And boy, that Neil Patrick Harris sure is a good sport.

Harshing the Buzz

All in all, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is an entertaining bit of comic fluff. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you should stop reading right about now.

Because if you deconstruct the movie, it not only crumbles, it releases a nasty smell that’s better to ignore in polite company.

The first unfortunate smell comes from one of the film’s repeated themes: “there’s nothing wrong with a little hypocrisy.” It works as a joke, and maybe it’s intended as such. But if it reflects the culture that produced the screenwriters, then it’s good news only for bad people.

The other bad smell comes from straight from Guantanamo. I am not such a prude that I think nobody should joke about it. But again, if a screenplay reflects the culture that produced it, then our collective understanding of Guantanamo is more sad than funny. Harold and Kumar are forced by guards to “eat a cockmeat sandwich,” which might reflect our understanding that torture is happening, and that it’s unpleasant, but that it’s basically harmless. H & K’s fellow inmates are comically inept, America-hating Arab conspirators, which I’m guessing reflects our culture’s mistaken assumption that our leaders would never do anything so fundamentally wrong as assuming the detainees are guilty until proven innocent.

These smells don’t ruin the entire movie. The are sweet green clouds of sess and is musky B.O. You just need to be careful not to analyze the smell too carefully or it might harsh your buzz.