Second Hand Smoke: Catching Up With Harold And Kumar

When I heard that my local hometown theater, where I work part-time, was going to be showing HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY I decided to give in and finally watch the first one. I had heard that HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE was funny from various friends but just never got around to seeing it. Since the sequel has been getting fairly decent reviews (and is #2 at the box office right now) I’d put the first one in my NetFlix queue and thought I might make a double feature out of it by going to see the second on the big screen directly after viewing the first one on DVD (yes, I have no life). Of course this plan depended on whether I liked the first one. Well, let me tell you:

HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (Dir. Danny Leiner, 2004)

In the four years since this was released I got the picture from trailers and friend’s quotations that this was basically a crude comedy about a couple of geeky Asian stoners who get caught in a silly series of mishaps while trying to get to a fast food restaurant to satisfy their extreme bout with the munchies. Yep, that’s exactly what is – a base teen demographic-aimed R-rated raunchy romp filled to the brim with profanity, gross scatological humour, and every stock stereotype you could put a stamp on. The fact that the DVD has a featurette entitled “The Art Of The Fart” says it all, right? That’s not to say it doesn’t have a certain clever charm to at times. The leads – John Cho and Kal Penn (as Harold & Kumar respectively) are likable and carry the tone with a crisp chemistry. A bevy of B and C-list film folk appear in cameos – Fred Willard, Ryan Reynolds, and Jamie Kennedy are on hand to randomly pop up and provide punch to the proceedings but the cake is taken by Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser!) playing himself. NPH, as some refer to him, is a horny Ecstasy-fueled celebrity ego exaggeration who throws one of many wrenches at the feet of our THC-driven burger-craving heroes and steals the movie just like he steals their car *.

* This cameo came up before on this blog – The Cameo Countdown Continues (7/20/07)

This kind of comedy isn’t really my thing – the bathroom base-ness of it all wears intensely thin with every compromising situation easy to predict but there are a few decent laughs and a loosy-goosey go-with-it flow that doesn’t feel forced. A dream sequence/love montage featuring Kumar romancing and going on to marry a gigantic bag of weed set to Heart’s “Crazy On You” comes close to hitting that hilarious-line on the comic circus bell pole and there are at least 3 or 4 other crazy bits that Judd Apatow would be proud to call his own. Comparisons to Cheech & Chong, Wayne & Garth, Bill & Ted, and even Beavis & Butthead (oh wait, also the dudes in DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR?) are inevitable meaning the stoner duo mis-adventure can now be fully recognized as a legit genre. Like I said, HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE in the end may not really be my bag (get it?) but as throw-away profoundly stupid commercial, not kind-bud, comedies go – you can get a decent buzz off of it.

So, since the first in the Bong Crosby and Bob Dope road pictures breezed by me somewhat entertainingly I thought sure, why not? I walked up to the theater putting the NetFlix envelope containing the frist one in the mail on the way. So let’s take another toke:

HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (Dirs. Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Sclossberg, 2008)

The tagline for this sequel which takes place right after the events of WHITE CASTLE is: “this time they’re running from the joint!” Sure it’s obvious pot-minded spoof pandering, but we’re not exactly talking David Mamet territory here! Well, except in that Mamet’s screenplays are filled with an equal amount of profanity but anyway such a slogan is pretty expected. What’s expected is pretty much the game for Harold & Kumar’s second time out. I mean this builds predictably on what was a sketch-piece patchwork by having even more flagrant racist-panic sex-centric pro-recreational drug antic-mania! Taking it up another notch is the mistaking of our slacker stoner heroes for terrorists because of a self-invented smoke-less bong that Kumar (Kal Penn) smuggles onto a flight to Amsterdam – “It’s a bong – not a bomb!” Kumar exclaims.

The Daily Show‘s Rod Corddry (funny here but not funny enough) as a obsessively prejudiced Homeland Security agent labels them as North Korea and Al Queda working in cahoots and that lands the flippant leads in for a stint in Guantanamo Bay. Through a disgusting passage of predictable scrapes they escape and withstain the usual lot of farcical flukes including more stereotypes (if a backwoods redneck archetype jokes that he has a inbreed son in the basement you can be sure that he really does have such if you get my drift), more nasty non sequiturs, and of course the reliably drugged-up Neil Patrick Harris again to make sure the formula is solidly in place.

In the annals of unneccessary but still somewhat passable sequels this is equal to REVENGE OF THE NERDS II: NERDS IN PARADISE. Or maybe, as Beverly D’Angelo’s cameo as a whorehouse madam here suggests, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION is a better likeness. As for non-sequel quality status Kumar says early on “it’s going to be exactly like EUROTRIP, except its not going to suck” – I’ll give HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO GUANTANEMO BAY that – it is better than EUROTRIP but that is so far from saying much that it’s not funny. Also not funny is the before mentioned inbred hillbilly humor or a wretched Ku Klux Klan sequence that is as slapdash an attack on racism as the likewise lameass swipes in FLETCH LIVES (1989) or even the morally misguided Richard Pryor vehicle BUSTIN’ LOOSE (1981). James Adomian as a goofball version of (like there’s any other comical prospect) President George W. Bush (Adomian has almost made a career out of impersonating the Commander-in-chief on low level shows like Mad TV) appears in the 3rd act to offer some sort of poli-parody statement – thats he’s a stoner too with a slacker perspective to be admired. Of all the notions in this fitfully funny but still unneccessary sequel that’s the most unfunniest.

Okay! I think the amount of time I’ve spent with Harold & Kumar today has been a bit much. Still, though laughs – we’ve had a few…

More later…

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