HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY - DVD review

Anything the filmmakers might have, could have, should have handled with even the remotest degree of subtlety...they didn't.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Under normal circumstances, I'd say that if you liked the previous film, you'll like the new one as well. But if my personal reaction is any measure of the situation, these are not normal circumstances. I rather liked much of 2004's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," but I positively hated most of 2008's "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," at least in its present unrated form. Go figure.

Any number of things went wrong in this stoner-comedy sequel, which takes up just moments after the plot of the first movie ends: (1) The co-writers of the first and second films, John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, abandoned their first director and decided to helm the second movie themselves, a first feature film for both of them. (2) They took everything they thought audiences liked about the first movie and exaggerated it even further. (3) They changed the personalities of both Harold and Kumar, Harold getting the worst of it. And (4) they ignored everything that might have been in the slightest bit thought-provoking or satiric in the first movie and in the second movie went for the cheapest possible laughs.

In the new film, Harold and Kumar are flying to Amsterdam when air marshals mistake them for terrorists, arrest them, and ship them off to Guantanamo Bay. They escape and make a trip from Cuba to Florida to Texas in an attempt to clear their names.

Filmmakers Hurwitz and Schlossberg explain on one of the commentary tracks that they wanted to make "Guantanamo Bay" a more serious, more mature film than "White Castle," while at the same time making it more risqué, naughtier. Well, fellows, I don't think you can have it both ways. You can't make it more mature and more juvenile at the same time. Or maybe you could have, but you didn't. Or maybe a more-experienced director could have. I don't know. I only know that this film is unrelentingly sophomoric from beginning to end, with almost no wit or imagination in evidence.

So, what did the filmmakers think audiences liked best about their film: Harold's sweet disposition and Kumar's goofy antics? The genuinely warm friendship of these two disparate individuals? Their quest to find themselves? No. They figured audiences mostly enjoyed the toilet humor, the nudity, the crudity, and the dirty words. So they multiplied these elements threefold in the new movie. The story even begins in the bathroom, with Harold taking a shower, and Kumar sitting on the can just a few feet away. The sound effects and dialogue communicate the grossest possible bad taste, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. You like jokes about farting, defecating, peeing, and being peed upon? You got 'em, about every two minutes. You enjoyed the few bare breasts in the first movie? OK, this one gives you not only bare breasts but a whole scene full of bottomless girls. And you want profanity? How about the f-word in every other sentence for no particular reason? This isn't filmmaking; it's pandering.

Worse, the filmmakers decided to change everything that audiences came to love about the personalities of the two main characters. Whereas Harold had been sweet and lovable, learning to assert himself more by the end of the first movie, here he is downright aggressive to the point of being abrasive and irritating. And whereas Kumar was a brilliant slacker in the first film, here he is simply an idiotic, obnoxious boor. It's hard to like anything about either of these guys, and they no longer appear to like each other, either, as they constantly bicker and fight. There's nothing funny here.

Nor are the supporting characters at all amusing because they're all such ridiculous exaggerations. For instance, the acting head of Homeland Security, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), is not just an incompetent or bumbling caricature; he's a certified lunatic, an imbecilic moron. Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") shows up again as himself, but he's no longer just the horny oddball; he's genuinely psychotic.

Finally, the film skims over or totally ignores any of a dozen or more possible targets for satire or at least good-natured ribbing. Racial profiling? Human rights abuses? Closed-mindedness? Bigotry? Racism? Sexism? Police brutality? They're all in the movie, yet the filmmakers only include them as the crass butts of dumb, mostly dirty jokes.

Anything the filmmakers might have, could have, should have handled with even the remotest degree of subtlety...they didn't. Instead, they do everything in broad, sweeping strokes, often accompanying the action with disgustingly graphic detail. This is material that Broken Lizard would have rejected, little more than a collection of drug and sex jokes, profanity, and nudity, intermittently punctuated by potty gags.

One smile near the very end. For me, that was it for "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay."

Video:
I have no objections to the look of this stanard-def, anamorphic transfer. Given the amount of material crammed into the first disc, what with the interactive feature described below, it's a wonder the New Line engineers managed to capture as much color and definition as they did. The 1.85:1, theatrical-ratio picture will fill a widescreen TV, and unless you compare the image quality side by side with its Blu-ray brother, you'll probably find it more than acceptable, with a relatively clean appearance and only occasional instances where its overly smooth and glossy aspect is distracting.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't really have a lot to do, so I suppose you could say it does its job commendably. About the only time it comes to life is when a little pop music plays in the background, and then we get a rocking bass. Otherwise, there is not a lot of need for wide dynamics or an extended frequency response or even much in the way of surround activity. We just get clear, precise dialogue, which is all we should expect.

Extras:
Disc one of this "Unrated 2-Disc Special Edition" contains mainly the film plus an interesting interactive feature, "Dude, Change the Movie!" This bonus is probably better than the film itself because you can decide the direction the story takes. Every few minutes as you watch the movie, the filmmakers give you choices, "Should the characters do this or do that?" Depending on your choice, the movie can end up doing all sorts of weird stuff. For instance, if you choose not to have Kumar light up a bong on the airplane, you get a whole new and different plot. If you choose to have the boys' friend throw a topless party instead of a bottomless one, well, you can do that, too. The filmmakers shot a whole lot of extra footage and include it on the disc, not just deleted scenes but entirely new episodes. In fact, it appears as though the filmmakers shot the entire film with this gimmick in mind. It's more fun than the regular movie.

Next on disc one we find two audio commentaries, one with co-writers/co-directors Schlossberg and Hurwitz and stars John Cho and Kal Penn and another commentary with the directors, the real "Harold Lee," John Cho, and the guy who plays George W. Bush, James Adomian. Things conclude on disc one with twenty-two scene selections, but no chapter insert; several theatrical trailers; Sneak Peeks at a few other movies; English as the only spoken language; and English and Spanish subtitles.

Disc two contains the twenty-one-minute featurette, "The World of Harold and Kumar"; twenty-seven additional scenes; yet a few more scenes called "Extras"; a Bush Public Service Announcement by the guy who plays Bush in the movie, James Adomian; and a digital copy of the movie you can unlock with a PC and a secret code. A colorfully embossed slipcover houses the two-disc set.

Parting Shots:
I really found this film pretty amateurish in many ways. It seemed like the kind of thing that high school freshmen might have put together, the kids tittering all the while they were making it. While in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" I laughed out loud any number of times, in "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" I sat stony-faced, and a little annoyed, for 107 minutes hoping for it to end. Not a good sign.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
7
Extras
8
Film Value
3