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It took 25 years in the business, but Jackie Chan and Jet Li finally give their fans what they want: a fight together. So why is the main character a 16 year-old white boy?
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More political than the first, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay finds humor in racial profiling and government ineptitude, without abandoning Doogie or the drugs.
Last we saw them, stoner buddies Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) were sinking their teeth into piles of White Castle burgers. Munchies satisfied and audiences hungry for more of Harold and Kumar's misadventures, what happens next? Well, you get diarrhea. Kumar, doubled over on the toilet, revels in the after-effects of gorging on thirty sliders. In the first five minutes of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the sequel lets you know that you are in for the same lewd and crude frat-guy humor of first movie, which came out in 2004.
There are enough poop-and-pot gags to go around, but the second Harold & Kumar installment goes more political in its satire of racial profiling, illegal immigration, and national security in the War on Terror. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay successfully transforms national hysteria into hysterical comedy. To the movie's credit, the audience laughed just as loud for the political humor as they did for the gross-out humor.
Harold and Kumar are just two pals who just want to get high and chase girls. Race is not a big deal in their lives until they get mistaken for terrorists after some pot-addled mishaps at the airport. "Oh my God, North Korea and Al Qaeda are working together!" says inept government agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) after taking one look at Harold and Kumar. In the first movie, the guys were after the munchies; now the stakes are much higher as Harold and Kumar become orange-suited fugitives and are forced to defend their citizenship. This is where stupid comedy gets a little smarter.
The movie pulls off massive amounts of racial stereotyping and racial profiling without offending Asians, blacks, Jews, etc. This is because the butt of the jokes is not the people of color, who tend to be well informed, but the authority figures who don't have a clue. In one scene, Homeland Security calls in Harold and Kumar's parents, the Lees and the Patels, for questioning. Fox calls Kumar's parents "Ay-rabs." "We're Indian!" responds Kumar's father with indignation. Then, a translator attempts to communicate with Harold's parents in Korean gibberish. Speaking perfect English, Harold's father explains the situation, but to no avail since the agents still think he is speaking an unrecognizable dialect. The looks of disbelief on the faces of the Asian parents are priceless.
How do you make a movie that both mainstream and Asian American audiences can enjoy? The answer is weed. With drug references comes potty humor, and with potty humor comes nudity, which adds up to a sizeable mainstream interest. For Asian Americans, watching fun and relatable Asian American guys can produce a natural high. Harold and Kumar are anti-model-minority slackers who screw up a lot, but have a good time in the end. Asian American kids will especially like the flashback to Harold and Kumar's college days, what they were like before they got turned onto pot.
The something extra of having Asian American guys in the lead roles sets the Harold & Kumar series apart from its contemporaries in the buddy movie genre like Superbad, Wedding Crashers or Old School. With an Indian American guy and a Korean American guy as the protagonists, rather than the one-liner ethnic sidekicks, Harold & Kumar creates opportunities for funny situations that deal with the everyday consequences of being non-white Americans.
On their way to Amsterdam, Kumar, not surprisingly, gets pulled aside at airport security for a random check. Kumar throws a "This is racist!" hissy fit. The security guard says something to the effect of "Dude, I'm black. How can I be racist?" Kumar scoffs, "Dude, you're hardly even brown." The confrontation between Kumar and the light-skinned security guard is funny in exposing the absurd complications of color, race, and criminal behavior in our system of national security.
But what was I talking about? Neil Patrick Harris? Right, weed. Weed appears throughout Harold & Kumar as the save-all punch line whenever Harold and Kumar get misunderstood because of the way they look. When it looks like Kumar is assembling a bomb in the airplane bathroom, the bomb is actually his invention: a smoke-less bong. Of course the entire plane mistakes Kumar for a terrorist, and Harold freaks out. "It's a bong, not a bomb!"
If the movie where to have a political message it would be "Bongs, not Bombs." Through a series of ridiculous events, the duo lands in President Bush's house in Texas. They panic when they realize where they are. Once again weed comes to the rescue, as Harold and Kumar smoke it up with the commander in chief. While chilling out with the president, Harold admits that he is disillusioned with America, being wrongly sent to Gitmo and all. In a moment of stoner wisdom, Bush (impersonated by James Adomian) tells Harold that in order to be American, you don't have to love America, you just have to love your country. Typical of marijuana-induced philosophy, the statement is simple, but maybe slightly profound. Harold & Kumar is a stoner flick, but there's more going on than what clouds the eye.
Date Posted: 4/18/2008