Message isn't partying, drugs in 'Harold and Kumar'


Last updated 5/29/2008 at Noon

Since I’ve been writing movie reviews since the 1990s, this probably isn’t the first time I’ve repeated myself. The movie “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” makes it certain that I’ve now repeated some previous comments about the difference between “Strange Brew” and “Wayne’s World.”

“Strange Brew” was released in the early 1980s and “Wayne’s World” dates to the early 1990s. Both were based on skits from late-night television shows, specifically SCTV’s “Great White North” and Saturday Night Live’s “Wayne’s World.” Both involved two male characters talking funny and talking about drinking alcohol and partying.

“Wayne’s World” captured the odd linguistics and partying aspects of “Great White North” and “Strange Brew” but specifically focused on those aspects. What is often forgotten is that “Great White North” featured Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas not as social deviants but as stereotypical beer-drinking Canadians; after the Canadian government passed a Canadian content percentage requirement for Canadian broadcast stations the Toronto-based SCTV created Bob and Doug McKenzie in response.

Thus while Harold Lee and Kumar Patel seek sex and drugs, the sons of Korean and Indian immigrants actually seek something more important in the movie. “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” is more political satire than a glorification of sex and drugs.

Harold’s girlfriend has left for Amsterdam, and the two friends book a flight there to make a surprise visit. Kumar can’t wait until they arrive in Amsterdam, where smoking marijuana is legal, and he smuggles pot and paraphernalia on the airplane. The bong is mistaken for a bomb and Harold and Kumar are arrested and subsequently detained at Guantanamo Bay.

The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are mistreated, and Harold and Kumar take advantage of circumstances to escape from the prison. They leave for Miami with a boatload of Cuban refugees, placing them back in America.

Kumar’s former girlfriend is now engaged to the son of one of President Bush’s former fraternity buddies, and Harold and Kumar had run into the couple at the airport. Colton’s comment that his connections to the President could get Harold and Kumar out of trouble became applicable with the arrest and escape, and Harold and Kumar journey to Texas to take Colton up on that promise.

The movie also includes the stereotypical overzealous Department of Homeland Security official whose focus on the wrong people makes his work useless. While DHS is querying everyone involved, Harold and Kumar have their own encounters on the way to Texas.

“Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” spares no one from ridicule. Southern rednecks, Ku Klux Klan members, blacks, and Jews are targeted in the humor as well as the Department of Homeland Security and President Bush. Ironically, the movie may be the one most sympathetic to President Bush. The film also stars Neil Patrick Harris as himself, and even Neil Patrick Harris isn’t afraid to be lampooned in the film.

The drugs, sex, and nudity make the movie’s “R” rating appropriate. The treatment of a couple of young pot smokers as dangerous terrorists makes the content of the movie appropriate. It may be offensive to some, although the movie would be offensive to many even without the sex and drugs.

“Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” can, however, be enjoyed by those of all political leanings. It’s not suitable for children, and without a focus on the political implications it’s likely to be enjoyed more by men than women and more by teenagers and young adults than by older adults.

“Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” resembles “Great White North” more than a Cheech and Chong movie. It’s raunchier than a Capital Steps song, but the true humor is in the political satire rather than in the sex and drugs.

Like “Strange Brew,” the background must be understood to enjoy “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.” And regardless of one’s views on homeland security measures, the Harold and Kumar movie can be considered the “War on Terror” equivalent of a Maudlin cartoon.


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