Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

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This review was written for the festival screening of "Harold & Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay."

South by Southwest

AUSTIN -- Innumerable sharks lurk in the ocean between New Jersey and Cuba, and Harold and Kumar just jumped every one of them.

The stoner duo's second film, "Harold & Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay," lacks the fresh charm that made their first such an unexpected (if guilty) pleasure. Word-of-mouth likely will be bad, so producers should pray that their bong-hitting target audience is alert enough to get out on opening weekend. "Escape" bows April 25. It screened over the weekend at the South by Southwest film festival.

The odd-couple protagonists are drawn more broadly here than in their debut, an approach that Harold (John Cho) survives better than his co-star, Kumar (Kal Penn).

After the funny plot-starting sequence, in which Kumar brings a high-tech bong on an international flight and gets them both mistaken for would-be bombers, the character's string of stupid moves plays out less like endearing haplessness than like willful, inexplicable attempts to wreck his buddy's life.

The boys get sent to Gitmo, depicted not with any political edge but as a generic house of squalor and sodomy. They quickly escape on a raft -- going on the lam in the direction of Texas via Miami. There, a well-connected acquaintance (who's about to marry Kumar's ex-girlfriend) might help get the Feds off their backs. Those G-men are led by Rob Corddry, a gifted comedian who, even after years of studied cluelessness on "The Daily Show," can't make the script's one-note Patriot Act-enabled incompetence entertaining for more than a few minutes.

The ensuing road trip has a bright spot or two (a fantasy menage a trois with a bag of pot and an earnest love poem built around a nerdy math conceit) but seems intentionally dumbed-down.

By the time a George Bush look-alike arrives to offer unlikely assistance, the audience will rightly expect the script to fumble that comic opportunity as well.

HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
New Line
New Line, Kingsgate Films, Mandate Pictures
Credits:
Directors: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Screenwriters: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Producers: Nathan Kahane, Greg Shapiro
Executive producers: Joseph Drake, Carsten H.W. Lorenz
Director of photography: Daryn Okada
Production designer: Tony Fanning
Music: George S. Clinton
Co-producers: Nicole Brown, Jon Hurwitz, Kelli Konop, Hayden Schlossberg
Costume designer: Shawn Holly Cookson
Editor: Jeff Freeman
Cast:
Harold Lee: John Cho
Kumar Patel: Kal Penn
Himself: Neil Patrick Harris
Maria: Paula Garces
Ron Fox: Rob Corddry
Dr. Beecher: Roger Bart
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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