When Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay was announced, I hadn’t seen the first film in the series and wondered how a stoner comedy could possibly warrant a sequel and where they could possibly take it…and just how would Guantanamo Bay fit in? Well, I eventually caved and watched the first film and was readily swept up in its crass and toilet humor, so it should be no surprise I became a fan of the film and eagerly awaited its sequel. As a fan of the series I enjoyed Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay but it’s key to keep that in mind: you have to know and enjoy the first film to even have a slight chance of enjoying its sequel.
Picking up where the first one left off, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay opens with Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) having just downed a truckload of burgers and fries and preparing for their trip to Amsterdam to reunite Harold with the love of his life, Maria (Paula Garcés). While on their way, they run into Kumar’s old girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) and find out that she’s getting married. Within hours of boarding the plane, Harold and Kumar are detained for being terrorists and begin their rivalry with Agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), who believes them to be members of North Korea and Al Qaeda who are “working together.” Along their way to help clear their name, Harold and Kumar reunite with Neil Patrick Harris and even get baked with George W. Bush, all in an effort to get the crazy Fox off of their tail.
As I mentioned in the intro, you have to be a fan of the first film to even remotely enjoy the sequel. It’s not so much that there are a bunch of throwbacks (those pretty much end after the first sequence), but it’s the characters that would leave you to feel completely lost if it weren’t for the first film. I suppose you could say that of every sequel, but the film quite literally assumes you know everything about Harold and Kumar from the first film and makes no efforts to expound upon any of that. Once you settle down in Harold and Kumar’s world, it’s all that much easier to enjoy.
Having said that, I’m not entirely sure if I enjoyed the film simply because of the first one or because it was funny; Neil Patrick Harris, was, as before, absolutely hilarious and I spent most of the film wondering when he’d show up. The high life living red necks in the woods seemed like a poor-mans retread of Freakshow from the first film and quite honestly everything about the film just felt very second-hand. Nothing felt fresh and new and laughs often came only from the familiarity of it all. Rob Corddry continued his role of obnoxious idiot (is that all he gets cast as? Granted he was a bit more straight in Heartbreak Kid, but he was barely in it) and I rarely laughed when his character was on-screen, which was more of a disappointment to me than the character itself.
The films focus became less on the stoner comedy from the first film and more on some kind of strange political agenda, where we’re left with Kumar ranting against stupid American tendencies and then him and Kumar ganging up against terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. It’s an absolutely conflicting film as I want nothing more to laugh but I’m really forcing them out at times. There are a few genuinely hilarious moments in the film (that aren’t Neil Patrick Harris related) and they belong solely to Harold and Kumar, who make a great on-screen team when they’re working together, but every time Harold gets pissed off at Kumar the film slows to a crawl. Although he played the “serious” one of the team in the first film, Harold really felt like a (for lack of a more modern term) stick-in-the-mud for Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
I knew I shouldn’t expect much from Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay since it was a sequel to a four-year-old stoner comedy, but I had at least hoped for more. There are few memorable sequences like there were in the first film and I really was just incredibly disappointed with the film all around. The government intervention angle was incredibly wasted, although the George W. Bush sequences were astonishingly hilarious. The actor playing him, James Adomian, was absolutely perfect and I was actually impressed the film made the President seem intelligent, for as much bad mouthing as the rest of…well, everyone, does about him. I think that’s what I dreaded most about the sequence, was that it was just more Bush bashing (I don’t want to get into anything political by saying that I don’t think he doesn’t deserve it, I’m just sick and tired of the bashing), but it was rather well-done. As well-done as a pot smoking sequence can be anyway.
Maybe it was the films complete lack of referencing White Castle, but Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay really just didn’t hit the same spot as the first film. I just don’t know if these characters can sustain multiple films and as much as I love them, pairing them up with their girlfriends really seemed to put a stopper on this series. The first film set us up for a sequel, but this film really wrapped up fairly nicely and the series just doesn’t scream “trilogy” to me. Although it didn’t necessarily seem like it should have a sequel either, but some things work out that way, I guess.
In the end I was incredibly disappointed with the film, but quite honestly…I don’t think this film was meant to be better than the first. A lot of it was a complete re-tread, but the Neil Patrick Harris sequences alone are worth checking it out if you enjoyed the first film. If you did like the first one then you’ll likely find some enjoyment from Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, whether it be from Harris or the gratuitous nude sequence (I pretty much fit the category for the type that would enjoy that type of sequence and I still thought it was a tad bit overkill), this film does sport a few laughs, but nothing that will stick with you quite like the first film. Rent It.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay arrives on Blu-ray in standard New Line Cinema fare: two-disc release (second disc with the digital copy), inserts for the digital copy product code and inserts for other New Line Titles and a notice to keep your Blu-ray player up-to-date. The menu system for the film is pretty basic, with nothing standing out that couldn’t have been done on DVD, aside from the pop-up menu navigation for the extras.
Video and audio for this release is….well, it’s mixed. The VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 transfer looks fantastic with plenty of detail shown, so those with giant screens can be prepared to watch the bottomless party sequence in full glory…all of it in full glory. The colors are vibrant and crisp and I was actually surprised how clear the Alabama woods looked as Harold and Kumar walked through them. The audio is another beast entirely. While watching the film, during several points, I was greeted with a loud, digitally distorted popping noise. At first I thought my speakers were going out but after testing my equipment in several different set ups, I concluded that it is indeed the DTS-HD MA 7.1 track causing it. There is no alternate language track for the film so I couldn’t test to see if it was indeed just that track, but the commentary tracks sounded fine so I either got a bad transfer of the audio or there are some serious quality issues going on with this title. Aside from the random digital noise bursts (which happened five or six times) the track was clean and clear, with plenty of bass included for the films soundtrack and bumpy cargo airplane sequence towards the end of the film. The rest of the film was mostly front channel focused, with very little surround play making itself heard.
Moving onto the extras for this disc we have a fair mix of generic extras as well as some fun ones. First up is a pair of commentaries, with John Cho, Kal Penn and Director/Writers Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz and another with Director/Writers Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz, “The Real Harold Lee” and James Adomian (“George W. Bush”). Quite honestly both tracks are a riot to listen to and in many ways are funnier than the film itself, but the Cho/Penn track has a slight edge over the second one. Hearing Adomian talk about his role as Bush was humorous, but the second track really isn’t worth listening to if you already caught the Cho/Penn commentary first.
“The World of Harold and Kumar” (21:35, 1080i) is our making-of where we get some talking heads about the construction of the film and how the sequel came about (four years after the first one). Deleted Scenes (18:50, 1080p), 18 total, collect a series of extended and completely removed sequences from the film, while “Extras” (7:02, 1080p), 9 total, appears to just be another collection of scenes that weren’t used in the film. I’m not sure what the difference between the two is, but they’re both here for your viewing.
“Bush PSA” (1:53, 1080p) and Teaser, Theatrical, Red Band Trailers wrap up the standard extras, with the biggest extra, “Dude, Change the Movie” being the most interesting extra of the set. It takes some getting used to, but like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you can mix in deleted sequences into the film to change the outcome of some of the areas of the film. It’s a cool little tool to use, but it’s not like it completely rewrites the film or adds much to it. In fact I don’t know if it’s anything more than a glorified branching sequence that you’re required to control, but it’s still fun to play around with.
Overall while I wasn’t totally impressed with the film…well, I wasn’t really impressed with the Blu-ray release either. The glitchy 7.1 track left me with a bad taste in my mouth, as did the general lack of funny from the film (there was plenty to laugh at…just not enough for the films lengthy 107 minute runtime (the unrated cut is a whole five minutes longer than the rated version). In the end whether you see this film is dependent upon your enjoyment of the first film.
Fans of the First: Recommended
Newcomers: Watch the original first or just Rent this one.
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on July 29th.