There's something kind of amazing about Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the latest stoner comedy detailing the exploits of two guys who spend their time chasing after either trim or weed, not necessarily in that order. The amazing thing is a realization, actually: Americans are angry and sad and they hate their government and their countrymen. They also think fart jokes are hilarious.
The laudable raison d'être of this Harold & Kumar, as was the case with 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, is to offer up plenty of jokes about getting high, getting laid, and farting—but while White Castle hung those jokes on the ramshackle framework of college hijinks (a trip to a burger joint goes awry) Guantanamo Bay hangs them on what might as well be a synopsis of an episode of MacNeil/Lehrer. Harold and Kumar, our two loveable heroes (played by John Cho and Kal Penn, respectively) attempt to fly to Amsterdam (for reasons too obvious to mention). Along the way, they're wrongfully arrested for terrorism (Kumar sneaks a bong onto the plane, and an old lady notices he's not Caucasian), and end up becoming detainees in America's most famous torture center (a place where "no one has any rights" and "enemy combatants" are forced to give guards blowjobs).
Escaping on a barge with some illegal immigrants fleeing Cuba(!), Harold and Kumar find themselves on the run from Ron Fox (The Daily Show's Rob Corddry), a dim-witted Homeland Security official who's intent on capturing our duo, convinced that Kumar (who is of Indian descent) and Harold (who is of Korean descent), are actually agents from al-Queda and North Korea. (Fox's interrogation methods include calling Kumar's dad "Chief," trying to bribe African Americans with grape soda, and literally wiping his ass with the Fifth Amendment.) Also: Harold and Kumar go to a bottomless party, get to know their fellow Americans (represented by the Klan and inbreeding Southern hicks), get high with President Bush (James Adomian), and go to a whorehouse with Neil Patrick Harris. (Harris, here, is just as good as he was in the first film, if not better; and his appearance comes as something of a relief: While the first act of Guantanamo Bay is sluggish, once Doogie shows up—cramming shrooms and Jack Daniels down his throat while racing down a highway and hallucinating magical unicorns—Guantanamo Bay picks up some serious comedic steam, abandoning any and all attempts at coherent plot and just letting the naturally funny and charming Cho and Penn do their thing.)
Harold & Kumar is certainly funny, and the fact it's also pretty clever shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who saw the first film. But what is kind of surprising—and more than welcome—is that Guantanamo Bay seems to be doing two things: On one hand, it's a dumb slapstick comedy, gleefully satisfied with exploiting the lowest common denominator, but on the other—and I realize how ridiculous this sounds—the film's fully willing to mine Americans' current political and social disenfranchisement for laughs, happily riffing on the hypocrisy of elected officials, America's stellar record of human rights, the racist incompetence of Homeland Security, and, perhaps most damningly, the befuddled complacency of the American people. When this sort of angry, ridiculous stuff has seeped into our stoner comedies (the laughs at the screening I attended were equally enthusiastic for jokes about both airplane security and blumpkins), there's something kind of amazing going on. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but I'm really glad Harold and Kumar and Doogie Howser are a part of it.