- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Harold and Kumar face certain torture in their new movie, set partly at the infamous Guantanamo Bay. It’s nothing compared to what audiences will endure from a sequel that drains the joy from the boys’ last visit to “White Castle.”

“Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” sends up post-Sept. 11 anti-terror tactics, but it’s far better at showing just how bad a stoner comedy can be without a modicum of wit.

We pick up right where 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” left off. Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are flying to Amsterdam to surprise Harold’s new crush.

But Kumar can’t wait for the plane to land before lighting up. His improvised bong is mistaken for a bomb, midflight, and the duo are whisked off to Guantanamo Bay on terrorism charges. The jail features actual terrorists who get sexually molested each day by the guards, and Harold and Kumar are next in line.

Laughing yet?

The boys quickly escape the prison but are hounded by a maniacal Homeland Security agent (Rob Corddry) who takes great pleasure in stripping suspects of their rights. The agent literally uses a copy of the Fifth Amendment as toilet paper at one point.

Scene after scene falls flat, from a KKK cross-burning sequence to an extended stay at a house of prostitution. Even the moments that muster some comic momentum, like when the duo’s Americanized parents are quizzed by a Homeland Security interpreter, go on too long.

The only ace still up the franchise’s sleeve is upending stereotypes, so we’re introduced to a number of characters who act nothing like what we expect from their appearance, like a gangsta wannabe who’s actually a distinguished lawyer. This tolerance doesn’t extend to the anti-terror agents, depicted here as flat-out sadistic. Even the banter between our affable stars is nastier than before.

Stoner comedies shouldn’t be so mean-spirited.

A game Neil Patrick Harris, playing a sexed up version of himself once again, can’t dispel the dour mood. The film even kills off a major character with zero comic payoff.

Some conservatives will decry the film’s depiction of Gitmo, but the satire is hopelessly broad, and a cameo by a certain commander in chief serves as an apology of sorts.

The movie meanders toward a better than expected finale, but the filmmakers would have to be high to think “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” is anywhere near as much fun as the original.

*1/2

TITLE: “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay”

Rating: R (Adult language, nudity, sexual situations, drug humor and comic violence)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: www.haroldandkumar.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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