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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

I’ll confess, I liked Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It feels like that almost requires an anonymous support group to admit such a thing. I mean, really, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was not exactly The English Patient. Two stoners with the munchies go in search of a White Castle hamburger joint and end up in all kinds of hot water before they finally get to the place. It’s basically modern day Shakespeare for the mind-altered or the IQ-impaired. The sad part is that when I saw it I wasn’t “mind-altered”, so I guess we know what category I fall into. Oh well. It’s my lot in life.

My own virgin trip to a White Castle was not quite as convoluted as Harold and Kumar’s, but if I say so myself it was equally as memorable. Growing up on the West Coast, we were deprived of the greasy mini-burgers, called slyders (I didn’t spell them that way, so don’t blame me), though hearing about them was another matter. With so many talk shows airing from New York at that time, “The Tonight Show”, “The Merv Griffin Show”, “The Mike Douglas Show”, and who remembers how many more, guests often dropped the name of those bite-sized burgers and made them sound all the more a desired commodity for those us who couldn’t have them.

A gazillion years later, when I finally got to Long Island with my perfect husband, Fred, he suggested late one night that we make a run to the White Castle. My spidey sense came alive! White Castle! After all these years! Who knew my beloved even knew where a White Castle was? And who knew
there was one only six blocks from our apartment? Sweet Nirvana! Within minutes we were in the parking lot and my heart nearly pounding out of my chest as we approached the sparkling steel doors that beckoned to the legendary foodstuffs within. My husband, always the gentleman, opened the door and allowed me to take my first step onto the black and white checked tiles. Directly parallel to me was another customer on his way out, a young Middle Eastern-looking man. Suddenly, in a split second, he stopped, bent forward, and vomited his entire dinner of a dozen or so slyders along with an unknown quantity of what smelled like cheap rum all down the front of yours truly. With his slyders slid, the stranger barely made eye contact with me before he darted out the door, running into the night without so much as a simple “I’m sorry.”

This happened a few years before the world changed forever on September 11, 2001, so at the time we weren’t as high strung a culture as we are today or I’d have probably been distraught
enough to shriek hysterically and let my imagination give way to Republican euphoria and insist the stranger was working to poison a bunch of flag-waving Bible-lovin’ Americans with some bio-chemical agent when he accidentally became the victim of his own carelessness while playing with Ricin. Now I, too, was going to die along with him unless I was just lucky enough to suffer in agony for weeks on end and subject myself to his long trial and the media onslaught involved as well as their invasion into my own privacy just so I could be a part of ‘the process’ in sending the heaving would-be assassin off to Guantanamo Bay. What fun!

Actually, Guantanamo Bay doesn’t sound like such a bad place to hang out. I mean, it’s got a bay, right? Those are usually lovely. It’s also on the ocean, and what’s not to love about being by the ocean? I picture a prison there as being like the campus at Pepperdine University, all white cascading buildings with red roofs surrounded by luxurious palm trees that sway gently like they are keeping beat to the waves of the tides at the cliffs below. That’s why when I read that there was going to be a sequel (after four years!) called
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay I had to ask myself “Why?” I mean, why make it in the first place, but also, why escape from Guantanamo Bay?

The first movie was only funny if you were stoned when you saw it or had been vomited on at a
White Castle and could identify with their seemingly impossible struggles to simply get one friggin’ hamburger. Since then, both Harold (Jon Cho; soon to be the new Lt. Hikaru Sulu in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) and Kumar (Kal Penn; tv’s “House, M.D.”) have had fairly healthy solo careers, not to mention their buddy Neil Patrick Harris (tv’s “How I Met Your Mother”) who played a VERY fictionalized version of some guy named “Neil Patrick Harris” in both the first movie and now this one. It would seem like it would be in everybody’s best interests to move on from the dumbest characters of their careers and find something more rewarding to do, but Nooooooooo. Nobody ever does what I think is best for them. That’s why the world is full of movies like Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

The movie begins just minutes after the first one ended, which if you haven’t seen it in four years means you ~ like me ~ probably haven’t got a clue what’s going on because Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle wasn’t exactly like The Exorcist where the ending is burned into your memory because it was particularly important. In this case, however, Kumar is first seen in this episode sitting on the toilet “taking the biggest dump of all time” as he tells Harold, reminding him that, after all, he just ate (ironically) “a sh---load of White Castle.” What can you say about a movie that starts out in the crapper?

Quickly enough, the boys are on a plane to Amsterdam, “the weed capital of the world” as Kumar likes to call it. Of course, he can’t wait the five or so hours until they get there to go without, so he invented a “smokeless bong” he can use in the bathroom on the plane. Somehow, he managed to bring this odd-looking contraption through security along with his own stash of marijuana and in minutes he is spotted by another passenger with what she misconstrues as a bomb, and ~voila! ~ Air marshals galore descend and *poof!* the boys are in prison.

What could have been the funniest part of the entire movie, the guys’ actual incarceration at Gitmo, is over and out is less than seven or eight minutes, after the usual homophobic foolishness about guards forcing the prisoners to perform oral sex on them. Is there anything about prison that men can write jokes about which don’t have to do with forced sex on a prisoner? I know I’m a tight-ass in my old age, but there’s got to be more to prison than man-on-man rape.

The boys escape easier than most illegals cross the Texas border these days and manage to get
back to the US in a blink, thus setting up a sequence similar to the original film, only this time instead of going in search of a hamburger stand they are headed to Texas and a fren-enemy named Colton (Eric Winter; tv’s “Brothers & Sisters”), a former high school chum who, thanks to his father’s connections, is now hobnobbing with President Bush and working in Homeland Security. As much as the boys barely tolerate him, they know Colton can get them out of this mess. There’s only one hitch, and her name is Vanessa (Danneel Harris; tv’s “One Tree Hill”). She’s marrying Colton even though Kumar is still hopelessly in love with her and has been for years. You don’t remember either one of these characters from the first movie? Yeah, me neither, and yet writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who created and wrote the original also) seem to think we should. Maybe they were smoking too much of the happy hemp when they wrote the script this time around.

The day after I saw Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay I was back at the Essex Cinemas to see Deception, but before I went in to see that, a few of the young-uns who work at the theater asked me what I thought of Harold & Kumar 2. That is always a loaded question, and I’d prefer to be loaded before I answer someone face-to-face when they ask me something like that. When I know they’ve already seen a movie and loved it and want me to validate their feelings about the movie when I think it reeks like last week’s garbage… I just can’t honestly do it. It’s a lot like when people ask you who you’re going to vote for when they are wearing a pin for a candidate that you’d rather opt to stick an electric drill in your eyes than cast your ballot for. That’s when you smile and ask the enquirer the same question they just asked you. Inevitably they will go on and on about how fabulous the movie or candidate they love is, and then you can nod pleasantly for a few minutes before glancing at your watch and excusing yourself before dashing off to the next stupid movie Hollywood has dumped in our laps, thanking the studios gods for at least giving you an escape until the next time.

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