Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
When Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), those goofy post-racial potheads, first ambled into theaters in 2004, they must have been a little startled by the stir they created. After all, our underachieving heroes were just fighting for their right to party – and satisfy a monster case of the munchies. But a lot of us gobbled up Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle as greedily as the guys lit into their burgers. Maybe we were hungry for something that defanged ethnic stereotyping so deftly, reducing it to a punchline.
Harold’s parents are from Korea and Kumar’s are from India. That’s part of who the two best friends are, of course, but it hardly defines them. In fact, the main conflict in Kumar’s young life has been his struggle to break out of the good-Indian-boy mold his family wanted to fit him into, which would have dumped him out into the world as a doctor – and, as we see in a flashback in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay – a bit of a nerd.
Writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg told the New York Times they based the two on friends from their “very multicultural” New Jersey high school. “Harold and Kumar’s attitude toward racism is more frustration at having to deal with idiocy than moral outrage. We try to create a world where racism is stupid,” said Schlossberg.
The first movie succeeds by playing everything for laughs, but the second tries too hard for political significance, falling as flat as a punctured helium balloon when it tries to be more than an absurdist road trip with the occasional rest stop to skewer a stereotype or let the boys get their weed on.
This time we start with Kumar getting racially profiled while boarding a plane. The misunderstanding escalates – an elderly woman on the plane looks at him and sees a smirking member of the Taliban, in a nice update of Woody Allen’s encounter with Grammy Hall in Annie Hall – until the boys are arrested by a pair of fascistic sky marshals, and their road trip takes the radical detour of the title. They escape mercifully soon, hitching a ride to Miami with a raftload of escaping Cubans, but throughout the film they’re pursued by Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), a sadistic boob from Homeland Security, and his minions.
On their way home, Harold and Kumar tangle with a group of Klansmen burning crosses in the woods and the duplicitous “Abercrombie-wearing douche-bag” who snagged the love of Kumar’s life after he let her get away. But the most dangerous villains of all are the aggressively ignorant, incessantly posturing, stereotype-spouting representatives of the U.S. government -- most of them, that is.
One long-suffering reasonable bureaucrat, Dr. Beecher (Roger Bart), eventually stands up to the bullying Fox. And the dubious deus ex machina who clears the boys’ names, after getting high with them in his rec room, is none other than George W. Bush (Bush impersonator James Adomian, in makeup so thick his face looks like a Halloween mask).
The president turns out to be Kumar’s soulmate, an amiable stoner manchild with good instincts who just wants to break out of the rut dug for him by his father. It's easy to imagine the real Bush agreeing with our heroes, as this one does, that the U.S. government is not to be trusted, or guffawing at the things that go down in “G Bay.” But there’s something seriously off in this portrait.
Hurwitz and Schlossberg say that they wanted their movie to be apolitical, but you can’t bring Guantanamo Bay and President Bush into a movie without introducing politics. And by holding a few “bad apples” responsible for all the abuses perpetrated in the name of the war on terror while absolving their commander-in-chief, the filmmakers sound uncomfortably like apologists for the Bush administration.