Reel Reviews

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay - DVD Review


 

Through the haze of brain-y altering recreational drug use, audiences will find themselves either giggling or hacking fitfully from this dopey comedy strain - partying with Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn), two academically gifted collegiates on a quest to fulfill their under-the-influence gratification and raunch-ified wet dreams. Having previously been introduced to the lads on their munchies-inspired way to White Castle (hamburgers), look out for mind expanding sequel-ized yucks on the hallucinatory road less, er, check that - most certainly - never before traveled.

This outing the college bound misfits have set their sights higher, in more than just obvious ways, aiming for Amsterdam's laissez faire drug culture to partake in their favorite pastime. Between home and abroad, harsh post 9/11 realities interfere with their itinerary when the minority pair is mistaken for terrorists trying to detonate a would-be bomb - Kumar's latest invention, a smokeless pipe (â"It's a bong. Not a Bomb!") - on a plane.

If ever a movie cannily disguised itself as a carniverous big bad salivating wolf giving the appearance of an overly friendly - if trespassing - neighbor, Escape Guantanamo is it. Huffing and puffing, the story is a stinging political satire and indictment of the Bush administration's sustained attack on civil rights (culminating with a mutual narcotically induced philosophical drug policy discussion with the Commander-in-Chief himself) posing as a stoner comedy. Jokes and gags drag and hit intermittently, with its exploration of America's post 9/11 costs on freedom staged front and center throughout.

Harold and KumarBeing that Harold and Kumar are of minority descent - South Korean and Indian, respectively — movie is an erratic 21st century fusion of Hope and Crosby road picture meets Cheech and Chong, resulting in a parade of domino-like set-pieces designed to point out that the greatest cost paid in the war on terror - the freedom to be left alone - has resulted in the trampling of individual civil rights via racial profiling and stereotyping.

Lighting up where White Castle left off, the boys decide to follow the girl (Paula Garcés) of Harold's dreams, Maria, to Europe's red light district. Any Airport, USA serving up a Petri dish of the issues associated with America's 9/11-induced Gestapo travel climate, the duo undergoes the security microscope for a â"random" search (implying safety risks due to their ethnic persuasions) before airplane boarding. Spoofing the fearful atmosphere, Kumar's appearance is shown from fellow passengers' points-of-view; looking like a young, angry, bearded Arab. Travel plans go south when Kumar assembles his pharmaceutical paraphernalia in the mile high bathroom and all the conspicuously Caucasian passengers, along with no less than three on-board air marshals (â"My God! North Korea and al-Qaeda workin' together!") defensively commandeer the plane. Parallels between what's documented to have transpired in the airborne skies on 9/11 and this sequence are revealingly comfortless. Not unlike comedian Bill Maher's well known, politically incorrect diatribe over the merits of applying the term â"coward" to describe the 9/11 terrorists, the pressurized in-flight jokes may not be in good taste, or laugh-out-loud funny, but their chutzpah in dealing head on with personal liberties vs. national defense issues are no less undeniable. No one ever thought of Cheech and Chong as unwittingly representing the constitutional rights of the unpopular minority.

International disaster thwarted, the twosome are sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the controversial terrorist prison epicenter (home to waterboarding) that is known for ignoring/suspending civil rights in the name of protecting the world from suspected enemy combatants. Never mind. When Harold and Kumar discover guards are sexually dissatisfying prisoners, they escape in short order by floating to Miami with some Cuban refugees.

A series of caricatured episodes ensues, having the duet in one ridiculously farfetched life-threatening situation after another - all the fruition of a cumulatively indiscreet, Pentagon-spearheaded witch hunt. The underscoring point being the prejudicial propensities of authoritative federal, state, and local government officials to violate every civil and human right imaginable in the name of securing our domestic borders. Here or there, nothing is as it seems. The movie arbitraily turns all racial, regional, and southern stereotypes inside out, and right-side out again, so that the jokes simultaneously perpetuate typecast clichés and ask discerning audiences to dispel their own biased preconceived notions. (Exhibit A: The sympathetic farmer who's smart and rich with a beautiful wife - gotcha! She's his sister!)

It's no small feat to say that Escape Guantanamo challenges - at the collective expense - the labeling conventions saddled on Arabs, Asians, Mexicans, southerners, Jews, Blacks, Muslims, homosexuals, and law enforcement. The spasmodic humor is unrelenting in its speed and straightforwardness. Viewed unruffled, the â"blush" quotient will likely be higher than average if seen in mixed company. The selling of its political commentary message, if not the transaction, is subduing in its crass boldness. Of all things, a stoner movie offering a sobering civics lesson on the price of freedom for having waged war on ourselves.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD
3 Stars
3 Stars
DVD Experience
3 Stars

DVD

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French-Canadian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; audio commentary; unrated version; original theatrical version; "Dude, Change the Movie" version.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with co-writers/co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg joined here by lead actors Kal Penn and John Cho
o Feature-length commentary track with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg this time around they're joined by actor James Adomian and the real Harold Lee
* Featurettes
o Dude, Change The Movie!
o Inside The World Of Harold And Kumar (22:00)
o Fake public service announcement from James Adomian as President Bush
* Deleted Scenes - 18... yes count 'em, 18 scenes that didn't make the final cut
* Previews - for three other upcoming DVD releases: Run, Fat Boy, Run, Lost Boys: The Tribe, and Semi-Pro

Number of Discs: 2 with Keepcase Packaging

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