Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

(2008) ** 1/2 R
102 min. New Line Cinema. Directors: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg. Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Eric Winter, David Krumholtz, Neil Patrick Harris.

Right from its faux-important cursive titles, the sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay demonstrates a self-awareness that saves it from the junk heap. With a refreshing lack of pretention, the movie just sets out to give the audience entertaining, borderline-nonsensical fun. It's a latter-day Abbott and Costello flick, where the monster they encounter isn't Frankenstein, but the Bush Administration. That concept alone is enough to give this subversive frat party of a movie a try. As Kumar says early on, "It's going to be just like Eurotrip, only it isn't going to suck."

Certainly, Harold and Kumar fans will enjoy the raunchy absurdities of the sequel, written and directed by Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, the writers of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Picking up just where the first film left off, the sequel finds Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) setting off for the airport for a trip to Amsterdam. Encounters with airport security (a "random security check") and federal air marshals lead to the confirmed promise of the title, but the underlying complication is actually the airport discovery that Kumar's old flame Vanessa (Danneel Harris) is getting married in a week, to a WASP-y "douche" named Colton (Eric Winter).

While the romantic angle retains the first film's heartfelt "wingman" buddy comedy, the shift from hamburgers to politics gives the sequel just a bit more post-Patriot Act edge. As such, it's outrageous, patriotic fun, the odd couple tangling with Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) of the Department of Homeland Security. With his tendency to go into comic overdrive, Corddry is the perfect choice to play an idiot whose idiocy only gives him more confidence; he, too, has a funny dynamic with an odd-couple foil, Roger Bart's capable, sensible vice-chairman of the NSA. Fox is the poster boy for the Patriot Act. "Oh, I'm sorry, you want rights now" he spews sarcastically. "Where you guys are going, they have never even heard of rights!" Whether exercising his overdramatic penchant for throwing glass items at walls and demanding, "Do you want to rape America?" or blasting "Danger Zone" on his earphones during a plane flight, Corddry hits the spot.

Lest we forget Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is timed to be released not the week of July 4 but the week of 4/20, so, yes, the drug and sex jokes are also plentiful (don't even ask about the "cock meat sandwich" sequence). Expect as well the return of Neil Patrick Harris, playing his bizarro self: a raging heterosexual egomaniac with substance abuse issues (he likes to drive on 'shrooms, beer, and Jack). Happily, race-relation humor remains a priority for the writers, from Fox's breathless "observation" "North Korea and Al Qaeda working together—this is bigger than I thought" to sequences that bait with black, Jewish, and redneck stereotypes, flinging them around until they lose all credibility while still using them to get a knowing, self-critical laugh from the viewer.

At heart, these films are all about two friends, and Hurwitz and Schlossberg don't neglect their heroes. An engaging flashback section reveals Kumar's one-time habit of writing math-themed love poetry (and Harold's bygone fashions); such passages allow the heights of ridiculousness like plopping the two into a KKK bonfire. Cho and Penn put all the nonsense over with great chemistry and sharp comic timing; though these films are indulgently juvenile, the stars will be remembered as a great comic team.

[For Groucho's interview with John Cho, click here, and for his interview with Kal Penn, click here.]

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 7/29/2008

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

In keeping with the film, New Line has pulled out the stops for the Unrated Special Edition of Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay on Blu-Ray and DVD. The film looks quite nice, with a surprising level of detail and a generally consistent and colorful image that easily bests DVD. The color looks a bit unnatural in places and there's the odd bit of digital noise, but nothing too distracting, and the film gets an ideal audio treatment in a 7.1 (!) DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio Track. Every bodily function comes through loud and clear. (Unfortunately, some players, including the PS3 have had difficulty decoding the 7.1 audio, resulting in blips or "pops" in the audio. If you have this problem, consult the following thread for fixes: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1033427.)

All of the Blu-Ray's extras are presented in HD (except for the Red Band Trailer), and a digital standard-def copy of the film is included for use on portable devices.

Dude, Change the Movie! is a cool function explained by Harold and Kumar in a three-minute tutorial before playback. Eleven times during the film, the film pauses and prompts the viewer to select one of two options, while Harold & Kumar argue the possibilities. Example: "Top or Bottom?", the latter choice presenting the Bottomless Party seen in the film, and the former presenting a complete alternate version of the scene as a Topless Party (I suspect this "safety version" may have inspired the whole bonus feature). Some of the options are specially shot alternate scenes, and some amount to deleted scenes, some of which amusingly and prematurely end the film, complete with credits; the first option goes off on an elaborate short-film tangent that suggests the sequel most people probably expected: "Harold & Kumar Go to Amsterdam" (11:42). Best of all, one can use the "Skip" button to go directly to all of the "Dude, Change the Movie!" options and check out the alternate footage with ease.

The disc includes an audio commentary with John Cho, Kal Penn, and writer-directors Hayden Schlossberg & Jon Hurwitz that's an entertaining trip down memory lane characterized by the casual, mocking rapport between the four men; at one point, Penn estimates that only 70% of the commentary is true (though Schlossberg & Hurwitz usefully point out some of the added scenes in this unrated cut). A second track offers an audio commentary with Schlossberg, Hurwitz, "The Real Harold Lee" and James Adomian ("George Bush"); it's less essential, but certainly a unique lineup of people.

The disc includes a section of 18 Deleted Scenes (18:50 with "Play All" option): "Neil's Dead" (:57), "Fox Walk Up" (:51), "Doves" (:47), "Chloe Bottomless" (:49), "Storming of the Bus/Own Dem Titties" (2:43), "Alt. Cho Opening" (1:45), "KKK Stories" (:45), "Lab/Corner Office" (:55), "Alt. Dinner/Venison" (2:14), "Agencies/Narc" (:38), "Gitmo Escape Alt." (1:09), "Total Douchewad" (:45), "Koo-Bah" (:43), "General Plane Cut" (:36), "Parking Validated" (:14), "Kal Terrorist" (1:45), "Neil Poon Handler" (:31), and "Neil Pussy Hound" (:35). Some are alternate or extended takes; all are worth watching, though the most impressive is Cho's fearless musical improv on "Alt. Cho Opening," a montage explained on the commentary by the directors, Cho, and Penn.

A second section labelled Extras (7:02 with "Play All" option) collects nine more cutting-room offerings, some being wild improv alternates that would never have made the theatrical cut: "Wedding Doves Kiss" (:44), "Colton Killed Ramon" (:29), "Airport General" (:41), "Angel of Cum" (:05), "Done Her" (:12), "Eenie Meenie" (:33), "Don't Touch Me/Stick Out Tongue" (:18), "Tits Hemingway Alt." (:28), and "Cyclops Outtakes" (3:28). "Bush PSA" (1:53) is a montage of fake-Bush clips, some of which were used in the film's TV spots. Lastly, we get all three Trailers: "Teaser Trailer" (:58), "Theatrical Trailer" (2:31), and "Red Band Trailer" (3:15).

"The World of Harold & Kumar" (21:35) is the disc's making-of featurette, with very amusing interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Where else (outside of porn) can you see a woman audition by resting her giant breasts on the head of the director? Participants include writer-directors Schlossberg & Hurwitz, Cho, Penn, David Krumholtz & Eddie Kaye Thomas, Chris Meloni, Rob Corddry, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Conley, stunt coordinator Steve Ritzi, Echo Valley, Danneel Harris, Ed Helms, Roger Bart, and Beverly D'Angelo. The legions of Harold & Kumar fans will get some quality couch time out of this Blu-Ray, or its two-disc DVD equivalent.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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