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Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Jack Conley, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris, Danneel Harris, Eric Winter
Writing Credits:
Jon Hurwitz (and characters), Hayden Schlossberg (and characters)

This time they're running from the joint.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay marks the triumphant return of these two hilarious, slacker anti-heroes. The movie stars John Cho as Harold and Kal Penn as Kumar, two stoners who can't seem to get a break. Their last adventure found them traveling across country to find a White Castle hamburger in order to satisfy a weed-induced case of "the munchies."

This time, the boys get themselves in trouble trying to sneak a bong onboard a flight to Amsterdam. Now, being suspected of terrorism, they are forced to run from the law and try to find a way to prove their innocence. What follows is an irreverent and epic journey of deep thoughts, deeper inhaling and a wild trip around the world that is as "un-PC" as it gets.

Box Office:
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.908 million on 2510 screens.
Domestic Gross
$38.087 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 7/29/2008

Disc One:
• Audio Commentary With Writers/Directors John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and Actors John Cho and Kal Penn
• Audio Commentary with Writers/Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, Actor James Adomian and Harold Lee
• “Dude, Change the Movie!” Interactive Feature
& bull; Sneak Peeks
Disc Two:
• “Inside the World of Harold and Kumar” Featurettea
• Deleted Scenes 18
• “Extras” Outtakes
• “Bush PSA”
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: Unrated Special Edition (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 22, 2008)

Back in 2004, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle failed to ignite the box office. You wouldn’t think a movie that earned a mere $18 million – good for 110th place on the 2004 chart - would spawn a sequel. However, Castle became a cult hit on video, and I guess that was good enough for a second adventure.

Which brings us to 2008’s Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. With a take of $38 million, it more than doubled the gross of Castle. Does this mean a third H&K flick is inevitable? Yeah, probably – they’re cheap to film and they make back their money.

In Bay, we start literally right after the end of Castle. Roommates Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) plan to follow their epic burger journey with a real trip: a vacation to Amsterdam. Harold wants to follow up on his burgeoning romance with Maria (Paula Garces), so that sends the pair to Europe. Kumar experiences his own romantic issues when he finds out that ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) will soon marry yuppie Colton (Eric Winter).

Complications ensue onboard the plane. When Kumar attempts to use his “smokeless bong”, he gets seen as a terrorist and chaos results. Panicky government officials refuse to see the truth of the matter and imprison Harold and Kumar in Guantanamo Bay. They soon manage to escape and return to the US. The flick follows their path to freedom along with attempts by the authorities to recapture them.

I thought Castle offered some minor pleasures. It had a number of funny moments, though it also came with more than a few poor segments and ended up as terribly inconsistent. With that as a backdrop, I can’t say I expected much from Bay.

Even with those low expectations, Bay didn’t deliver. First mistake: the flick runs way too long. Goofball comedies like this don’t benefit from extended running times. While 112 minutes doesn’t exactly make it an epic, it seems way too much for something like this. (The theatrical cut ran 102 minutes; this “Unrated Extended Edition” adds 10 minutes.) Castle was a tighter 89 minutes, and that running time makes sense for this kind of flick. Too much stoner shenanigans gets old quickly, a theory proven by the tedium we find here.

In addition, Bay often feels too much like a basic rehash of the first movie. No, it doesn’t present identical gags – not most of the time, at least – but they both go with the same episodic structure that essentially abandons plot. The two flicks feature overarching quests but they emphasize the lead characters’ wacky adventures along the way.

Castle benefited from the sheer banality of that quest. It focused on two stoners who just wanted to get some burgers. The simplicity of the plot became its strength, as the struggles Harold and Kumar faced created an occasionally amusing contrast to the ordinary nature of their goal.

On the other hand, Bay bites off more than it can chew. H&K engage in an almost literally life and death quest here, and the urgency of their struggle reduces the potential comedy. It’s more difficult to be amused by their difficulties when they might rot in jail if they fail. Perhaps some like the elevated stakes, but I think the overall plot leaves the realm of amiable comedy and makes things too serious, even if we’re well aware of the fact that H&K will be fine at the end.

Often Bay leaves the impression that the serious quest exists mainly to allow the filmmakers to make some social commentary. Oh my - Bay comes packed with satire related to racial and ethnic stereotypes. A little of this goes a long way, and the theme becomes downright lame and predictable before too long. I appreciate the filmmakers’ desire to poke fun in simplistic stereotypes, but the jokes tend to be uninspired, and like almost everything else about the film, the theme grows tiresome before long.

Even the flick’s attempt to recapture the best part of Castle fails here. In the first flick, Neil Patrick Harris played a truly messed-up version of himself and created the funny scenes in the film. He returns here in the same capacity, but his appearance just doesn’t work. For one, his sequences lack the same novelty factor; we know what to expect as soon as we see him, so the freshness is gone.

In addition, the TV series Extras used the same conceit but a) with bigger stars, and b) with greater cleverness. The idea of an actor who allows himself to look horrible onscreen doesn’t seem as novel anymore, especially since Extras did it better. Perhaps if Bay used a different actor, the situation might’ve managed to seem more interesting. Instead, the reappearance of Harris just feels stale and uninspired.

Those are terms that came to mind often as I watched Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. The first flick was no classic, but it boasted a quirky charm absent from the sequel. Bay gets some points for its nudity – gotta love the “bottomless party”! – but nothing else about it impresses.

Footnote: stick through the end credits for a surprise.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer seemed mediocre.

Sharpness usually looked fine. Some softness interfered, mostly during wider shots. Nonetheless, the majority of the movie was appropriately concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw some mild edge enhancement at times. No significant print concerns appeared. The movie looked a bit grainy at times, but otherwise the movie lacked any noticeable defects.

Colors were erratic. The movie tended toward a muted palette that seemed a bit off some of the time. The colors were acceptable but tended to be a little dense. Blacks were fairly dark and tight, and shadows showed reasonable clarity. This was a perfectly watchable image but not anything more than that.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack of Bay, it worked pretty well. Like most comedies, the soundfield emphasized the front channels. The music displayed good imaging, and effects broadened to the sides well. They presented a nice sense of atmosphere and kicked into action well when appropriate. Surround usage rarely took center stage, but they added to the presentation at times. The surrounds lacked great involvement, but they were fine for this sort of flick.

Audio quality was quite good. Speech came across as natural and crisp, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Effects were clear and accurate. They showed good range and clarity as well. Music worked very nicely, especially in regard to the mix of source songs. Those presented strong definition and liveliness, and the whole package showed tight, rich bass. Again, there wasn’t anything special about the soundtrack, but it seemed more than acceptable for the material.

To launch its supplements, Bay comes with two audio commentaries. The first one presents writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and actors Kal Penn and John Cho, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. The participants get into cast and performances, characters and story issues, sets, production design, and shooting in Louisiana, deleted scenes and changes made for the extended cut, making their directorial debut, and a mix of other production topics.

Though a little too much joking around occurs, the commentary usually provides a pretty good look at the flick. It delves into the various subjects in an effective manner that covers things well. The movie itself is a dud, but the commentary works well.

For the next commentary, we hear from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, actor James Adomian and Harold Lee, the real-life inspiration for the movie’s title character. All four sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. They discuss sets and shooting in Shreveport, cast and performances, the film’s title and story issues, and a smattering of related subjects.

Since the directors covered much of the same territory in the first commentary, this one tends to sputter. They try to fill time with Adomian’s impressions of President Bush and others, but those attempts at comedy fall flat. Honestly, the guy’s not very good, at least not at doing Bush; I’m not sure how he gets work in that capacity. (He was pretty bad as Bush in the movie as well.) Lee offers very little and doesn’t seem necessary; his presence made more sense for the first movie, but he adds little here. It’s clearly the weaker of the two tracks.

For something different, we get an interactive feature called Dude, Change the Movie. This lets you choose where the story will go at various points – 11, to be exact. Some of the choices lead to short added scenes, while others create more substantial variations. The biggest happens first: if Kumar doesn’t smoke on the plane, we get a long video called Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam. It’s easily the most substantial of the bunch, though others also create very different paths as well; don’t choose “Freedom” in Guantanamo and that ends the movie right there.

Another major option occurs at Raza’s party. We can flip from the bottomless party to the topless party. The bottomless party is hotter – too much silicone in the new version – but it’s still a cool alternate edition. We also get to see Harold’s dream instead of Kumar’s and a few other interesting variants. This is a really fun option that adds a lot to the release.

DVD One opens with some ads. We get promos for Semi-Pro, Run, Fatboy, Run, and Lost Boys: The Tribe. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area.

Over on DVD Two, we open with a featurette called Inside the World of Harold and Kumar. This 21-minute and 44-second show mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and comments from Hurwitz, Schlossberg, Cho, Penn, stunt coordinator Steve Ritzi, and actors Eddie Kaye Thomas and Neil Patrick Harris, Rob Cordrry, Roger Bart, Beverly D’Angelo, Jack Conley, Echo Valley, Ed Helms, Danneel Harris, Chris Meloni, and David Krumholtz. The show covers story topics, cast, characters and performances, the work of the directors, stunts, and a few general issues. At times, the program gives us some decent details. However, it usually stays superficial and promotional, so don’t expect much from it.

18 Deleted Scenes run a total of 19 minutes and eight seconds. In addition, we get nine Extras that fill seven minutes, 11 seconds; these are also cut sequences, and I’m not sure why they’re put in a separate section. A lot of the clips simply act as extensions to existing scenes, so don’t expect a lot of truly new story material. Plenty of additional takes of various scenes also appear. The most substantial sequence shows Secretary Fox’s raid on a bus. Fans will probably enjoy the scenes, but I can’t say I think they offer much.

One annoyance about the scenes: they’re presented in what seems to be random order. They’d work better if they ran in the movie’s chronological context.

More from the movie’s fake president shows up in a Bush PSA. In this one-minute and 54-second clip, Adomian reprises his ineffective impersonation of W as he tries to convince us to see the flick. It’s pretty lame.

Finally, we find a few Trailers. We find the movie’s teaser along with its general and “red band” ads.

While the original flick didn’t dazzle, it looks pretty good compared to the limp Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. It runs too long and offers too few laughs along the way. The DVD presents mediocre picture quality, pretty good audio and a terrific roster of extras. The latter will make fans happy, but I can’t recommend this tedious flick to new viewers.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5625 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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