Advice: stay until after the credits.

I’ve been looking forward to the sequel to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle since well before anyone ever actually announced they were making a sequel. Seeing that first adventure in a mostly empty theater one bored Saturday afternoon was one of those truly great experiences where a complete lack of any sort of expectation was rewarded with nothing but awesomeness. Of course, having seen the original probably fifteen times since then, not having any expectations for Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay was a complete impossibility. Still, though the sequel may not be capable of providing the breath of fresh air that the first one did, just the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the company of Harold Lee and Kumar Patel was enough to satisfy me.

The triumphant thing about these movies is the way the depth and sincerity of these two characters carries through all of the crudeness and randomness. Their friendship feels genuine in a way that many movie friendships don’t, because it never seems like one of them is there only to support the other. As exasperated as Harold becomes with Kumar over and over again, they know and we know that their relationship is symbiotic. John Cho and Kal Penn are both great actors with undeniable chemistry, and they make scenes that could easily fall flat with other actors into sublime comic set pieces. In White Castle it was riding a cheetah and hang gliding; here it’s impersonating KKK members and involuntary skydiving. They throw themselves completely into every preposterous scenario without ever overreaching to become cartoons. No matter how unbelievable their lives may be, Harold and Kumar themselves are always believable characters.

One of the most pleasant surprises about White Castle was its message about racism and stereotyping in the United States. The effective and hilarious way social commentary was woven into the misadventure elevated the film to something more than just an exercise in absurd humor. One would think, based on the title, that the second movie would take this message to another level. Technically, I suppose, it doesbeing mistaken for terrorists, thrown in Guantanamo Bay, and leading the world’s most over-the-top crazy Homeland Security official on a cross-country manhunt are slightly more serious activities than being arrested for accidentally punching a cop who’s ticketing you for jaywalking or calling out your boss on his prejudicial treatment. But for all the demonstrations of racism still at work, the movie never quite reaches the level of satirical bite that it could have. For all that happens to him, Kumar never even seems as angry as he did during his speech to that cop Harold punched in the first movie. This isn’t really a criticism, just an observation. The movie chooses to stay on the side of goofy affability and not quite veer into true lambasting territory, but I think that’s okay. The ride is fun no matter what.

So, Guantanamo Bay may not be quite as good as White Castle, but it left me hoping for a third installment. We get a glimpse of college-age Harold that was among the funniest moments in the film and begs for a bigger flashback, not nearly a long enough scene with friendly neighbors Rosenberg and Goldstein (SPIN-OFF, come on!), and a repeat cameo from Christopher Meloni (as a character other than Freakshow) that only made me want to see what else these writers could create for him. Not to mention plenty of magnificence from the awe-inspiring Neil Patrick Harris. I’m not ready to leave the world of Harold and Kumar, and I hope none of the people making the films are yet either.


2 Responses to “Advice: stay until after the credits.”

  1. 1 Becca April 28, 2008 at 12:21 am

    If I ever decide to get a cattlebrand-style tattoo on my ass, I now know what it will be.

  2. 2 Chelsea April 28, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Okay, so I just imdb’d the movie and Christopher Meloni was credited under the name Reverend Clyde Stanky. That’s funny.

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