When it comes to political satire, how far is too far? Since it's not really satirical or political, "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" doesn't answer that question. It exploits post-9/11 anxieties as fodder for goofball gooniness. "Dr. Strangelove" it's not.
Not that I was expecting "Strangelove." But maybe just a teensy bit? I was a big fan of "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," in which collegiates Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) move mountains to satisfy their marijuana-inspired cravings for a White Castle hamburger.
That film was a flop in theaters but soon became a cult favorite on DVD – hence this sequel, which picks up right after the first film leaves off. It does not bode well that the first gag we are subjected to is enough to make us, well, gag. The film's coscreenwriters and directors, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, alas wrote the first installment, and they must have figured it's best to get the gross-outs in early.
Like so much of "Guantanamo," they figured wrong. As is so often the case with sequels, this one feels like a retread, albeit on a bigger scale. This time around, the boys are busted on a plane en route to Amsterdam because Kumar, unable to spend six hours without getting high, smuggles his homemade "smokeless bong" into the bathroom. Mistaken for terrorists, they are whisked to Gitmo, where the "political" satire consists of more gag-inducing gross-outs. (Warning: Much of the humor, or so-called humor, in this film is strongly explicit.)
It's an indication of how unserious the politics in this film are that the boys' prison stay over is just a blip on the screen.
Once they escape and are seeking exoneration, they make their way through Miami and the Deep South, where they encounter a Ku Klux Klan rally – more big laughs here – and eventually end up parachuting right into the Texas homestead of none other than George W. Bush (James Adomian), who reveals himself to be a fellow spirit – i.e. pothead.
Like I say, the political satire in this film is sharp, very sharp.
The Homeland Security zealot (Rob Corddry) on the boys' tail is someone who would not seem out of place in "Animal House" (if I may invoke a far funnier movie). He has one funny bit: He thinks Harold and Kumar represent a new terrorist alliance of Al Qaeda and North Korea. But a little of his bug-eyed zaniness goes a long way.
Since both Harold and Kumar are lovelorn in this film – each is seeking out a wayward girlfriend – we are meant to appreciate their newfound "heart."
It's always a bad sign when goofball comics are required to display their soft side. Given the right material, Cho and Penn are anarchically funny actors – and Penn, in "The Namesake," proved himself to be much more than that – so the attempt here to make us misty-eyed sees entirely misplaced.
So does the attempt to institutionalize them as some kind of generational Odd Couple, or place their gonzo exploits in the real world of terrorism.
To do that successfully, you'd need a new-style Terry Southern at the controls. It's certainly possible to make a post-9/11 comedy, but it had better be a black one.
• Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, and drug use.