Reviews

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay

As before, the adventures of Harold and Kumar are essentially an illogical, sometimes funny, and most often dead-on tour of U.S. race relations.


Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay

Director: Hayden Schlossberg
Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris
MPAA rating: R
Studio: New Line Cinema
Display Artist: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-04-25 (General release)
Website
Trailer
I'm from Buenos Aires, and I say kill 'em all!

-- Johnny Rico, Starship Troopers

As Louis Armstrong's lyrics underscore, "it's a wonderful world" for Harold (John Cho) in the first moments of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay. Showering and blissful, alone with his fantasies, he recalls his elevator encounters with sweet Maria (Paula Garcés). And then, just as it looks like the sequel is going to be a series of recycled images from the 2004's Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Kumar (Kal Penn) makes his intrusive entrance -- he's on the toilet, his bowel movements loud and horrific. Roldy's reverie is over.

But the new movie's expansion of the first film's plotting and themes are only just beginning. Harold and Kumar are preparing, each in his own way, for a trip to Amsterdam, where weed is legal and Maria is working. Roldy means to find her (though he only knows her first name), while Kumar intends to forget his own lost love, Vanessa (Danneel Harris). Kumar is reminded of this relationship when the boys bump into Vanessa and her current fiancé Colton (Eric Winter), at the airport. The small-world meet-cute leads to a flashback that is not from the first film, wherein Kumar and Vanessa discover a mutual appreciation of intelligence (she's a vavoomy lit major struggling with calculus, he's trying to write a math-themed love poem for his creative writing class) and a shared love of marijuana. As they suck on a pink-papered joint Vanessa has snuck into the library stacks, it's plain these two are made for each other, even as a punk-haired misfit Harold skulks in the background.

As sweet and strange as this bit of rom-com business may be, its primary function is to grant Kumar a modicum of a motivation. It helps that Colton is a frightening Young Republican, his dad George Bush's college roommate, which makes him completely wrong for Vanessa while also a key component in the titular escape plot. Or more precisely, "plot," scare quotes indicating that, as before, the adventures of Harold and Kumar are essentially an illogical, sometimes funny, and most often dead-on tour of U.S. race relations.

Guantánamo Bay is an appropriate starting point for this tour. Following a brief series of antics involving Kumar's "smokeless bong" that resembles a bomb, the boys are accused of being terrorists on the plane to Amsterdam. Tackled by air marshals with square jaws and big weapons, the boys end up in an interrogation room with Homeland Security agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), who determines that they represent the new and utterly alarming union of "North Korea and al-Qaeda." Shipped off to the detention center, Harold and Kumar argue and accuse one another of being bad best friends, until they start to whimper and worry, being apprised that they face the dreaded "cock-meat sandwich" imposed by very large U.S. guards.

This simultaneously broad-brush and acute critique of U.S. policy regarding detainees (no rights for the accused, no legal process, but plenty of abuses that are both repulsive and secret) gives way almost immediately to the escape, inadvertent and slapdash as everything is in the (apparent) franchise. They make their way to Miami via a truck-on-a-raft with teeny American flag hoisted ("You guys going to America?" "Si, vamos!"), Kumar dispensing advice to their Cuban benefactors concerning the best way to achieve freedom in the States ("Get a TiVo!").

In Miami they stumble into a sex party at the home of a rich buddy named Raza (Amir Talai), who lends them a nice ride, pastel suits, and pointy white shoes so they can make their way to Vanessa's upcoming wedding, ostensibly to get Colton to help them work out their legal status. Fox hunts them relentlessly, the film cutting back occasionally to his brutal interrogations of the boys' parents and friends, including one in which the interpreter takes Harold's parents' English as a "new dialect I don't understand." The boys, meanwhile, do what they do, showing up the bumpkinnness of a Klan meeting (Grand Wizard played under sensational red hood by Christopher Meloni), the truths and untruths of Alabama redneck stereotypes (the husband kills a precious baby deer, the wife [Missi Pyle] wears designed outfits and surfs the internet, the son is evidence of their incestuous liaison), and the manic self-love of one Neil Patrick Harris.

None of these revelations is news, which is, of course, the point. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay, like its predecessor, uses fart jokes and small-penis-and-big-tits gags to promote a kind of race consciousness. What's wondrous about this tactic is that the target audience is fine with the anti-racist messaging, even appreciates the obviousness of it. For Daily Show consumers, the crudity is less "extreme" than business as usual. The movie might seem "transgressive" in its exploitation of stereotypes (say, the Jewish boys Rosenberg [Eddie Kaye Thomas] and Goldstein [David Krumholz], who gather up the pennies tossed in front of them by Fox even as they roll their eyes at his anti-Semitism), but it is also dumb and silly. Even if it doesn't mean to be anything else, you wish it would elevate, just a bit.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image