In all honesty, I didn't find Harold & Kumar Escape from Guatanamo Bay to be as funny as I had anticipated, nor did I think the film had the subtle wit that elevated the 2004 original from being another generic stoner comedy to being one of the most amusing entries in the genre. Even the plot of the film lacked the surrealist quality of its predecessor, yet another quality that made it a very watchable film.
With that said, I really enjoyed this movie.
I know Harold and Kumar. At least this film and the previous effort have always maintained that illusion effectively. I like them. Furthermore, I was very intrigued to see what they've been up to since I left them at the end of the previous film.
The character development constructed in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was very strong, and it built a strong relationship with the audience (or, at the very least, with this reviewer). It is difficult not to be intrigued by them. They laugh in the face of prejudice as they are challenging it; they feel disenchanted with what the world around them expects of them; and they share a genuine bond as friends. In many ways, Harold and Kumar are very idealized characters, but with enough of a human context to make them seem very tangible.
The sophomore entry into this series begins immediately after the conclusion of the first film. The duo decides to board a flight to Amsterdam in an effort to pursue the object of Harold's affection from the first film, Maria.
When airline security mistake the drug paraphernalia that Kumar smuggled on board as an explosive device, the boys are sent to Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of terrorist activity. The boys quickly manage to escape, and then proceed to embark on a bizarre trek to find the fiancée of Kumar's ex-girlfriend (and his one true love) Vanessa, a political heavyweight who may be the only one who can clear the boys' names.
Will Kumar build up the courage to tell Vanessa he still has feelings for her when they finally reach their destination? Will Harold ever reach Amsterdam and be united with his own figure of admiration? Most of all, will the boys be able to walk into a single moment where they aren't mistaken as a threat as a result of their race?
While the film as a whole does not succeed in being as hysterical as the first movie, this is a movie that still has many funny moments. One of the elements that made the first film such a blast were the excellent cameos from a wealth of comedic actors, and while there is certainly less of that in this movie, there are a few that deserve consideration.
The infamous scene-stealer from the first film, Neil Patrick Harris (playing a very disturbed, twisted caricature of himself), continues to dominate this film in every scene where he accompanies the lovable stoner duo. It is apparent in the second film that Harris isn't merely funny because this role is such a change from his relatively clean Doogie Howser role. He possesses genuine skill as a comic actor. While the recent revelation of Harris' homosexuality is not mentioned in the film, there are a number of humorous references to this fact (including a very humorous ongoing gag with a unicorn).
Rob Corddry also succeeds in providing comic fodder as the overtly racist law enforcement official on Harold and Kumar's trail. Not only does his blinding ignorance stand as an entertaining display of the ridiculous nature of racial prejudice, it also effectively reveals to the audience how unreasonable it can be.
Even the relatively weak George Bush cameo is infinitely better than many of the Bush jokes that have fallen miserably flat in other films. The film also has its fair share of humorous drug-related humor, a staple of the first film. While some of it seems slightly contrived, much of it, including a fantasy sequence of Kumar's near the middle of the film, is very entertaining.
This film falls short of the original because the overall tone is starkly different from the first one. The first one seemed grounded in reality with a very surrealist twist. The second film does not even attempt to remain in any believable context. Normally this is not terribly important in a comedy film, but the reason the first film worked so well is because many of the antics, while preposterous, seemed as if they could be happening just a block away in any suburb.
The fact that a simple trek to White Castle led to such an epic journey added to the offbeat appeal of the film. The more genuine dilemma of evading imprisonment in this film is not as compelling. Also, while racial humor has always been one of the driving forces in these films, the second film often fell on hackneyed stereotypes that have been echoed in countless other films, television shows, and stand-up acts. If there is a third entry into this series, I would like to see the film brought back to a more localized setting, as I feel this hurt the second film immensely.
Even with these obvious flaws, I would be dishonest if I claimed the film didn't provide me with a highly pleasurable viewing experience. The characters in this second film weren't as thrilling as the first time I encountered them, but they are still fun to have around.
In some ways, Harold and Kumar possess many of the same qualities I admire in my own friends. Even when my friends aren't behaving as humorously as they are capable of, I still enjoy it when I am able to visit with them.