Well, Cicatrix and Sandhya have given us much of quality to chew on today with their posts on Love Marriage, so leave it to the English professor to do a review of a gross-out comedy, the much-anticipated (well, by me) Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. The film opens nationwide this coming Friday, 4/25.
My wife and I saw the film for free — thanks to an invite to a press screening/sneak preview in downtown Philadelphia. (I know the serious journalists in the house must cringe every time a blogger gets thought of as equivalent to “press,” but oh well.)
My first thought is — I wouldn’t be surprised if the film opens at #1 in the U.S. box office over the coming weekend. I’ve been seeing quite a number of ads for the film on TV this past week, suggesting that New Line Cinema thinks the film will open big (bigger, anyway, than Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, four years ago. Bigger than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama? I’m not sure).
As for the film itself, there my response might be a bit more idiosyncratic.
For one thing, I’m probably a little too old for some of these raunchy jokes. Poop jokes I expect and accept. Gratuitous sexual humor involving female (and sometimes male) frontal nudity — also mostly expected. Homophobic prison fellatio humor… er, not so much.
Really, anyone with a brain goes to a film like this for the commentary on race and ethnicity. The script-writers clearly knew that they needed some “serious” material to justify the rest of the film, and here they went back to some of the great material from the first Harold and Kumar, in some cases ramping up the subversive mockery of ethnic stereotypes a couple of notches. The other folks in the movie theater with us tonight — an ethnically mixed, downtown Philly crowd, with significant numbers of Asian Americans and African Americans — seemed to be having a good time. The ethnic humor and the stuff related to Guantanamo certainly seemed to go over well; it was actually some of the raunch that was too gross for this particular crowd…
The best scene in the film involves the Ku Klux Klan, and the best lines in the film actually went to George W. Bush (who makes a surprise cameo!). Some critics are saying the film is less original than the first Harold and Kumar, but I’m not sure that most mainstream audiences, for whom H&K is more of an underground/cult film, will be bothered. Admittedly, those Sepia Mutiny readers who have seen the first Harold and Kumar three or more times might well find this film to be a bit too predictable…
On the other hand, isn’t Homer’s The Odyssey also predictable? The Harold and Kumar films are, generically, mock epics — complete with stock figures standing in for “Penelope” (the earnest girlfriend waiting for the hero/anti-hero to return home), “Sirens” (here, prostitutes in a whorehouse), the “Scylla and Charybdis” of the War on Terror and Illegal immigration, and indeed a “Cyclops” (literally — the film actually has a Cyclops. I’m not joking). Rob Cordry plays the equivalent of the Greek Poseidon. Ithaca is … Jersey City.
(If you think I’m out of my mind to compare Harold and Kumar to The Odyssey, know this — I recently met a woman who had written a chapter of a sophisticated film studies dissertation on “generic subversion in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.” I may be out of my mind, but at least I’m not the only one.)
Do I recommend the film? Well, only to people who don’t mind some really juvenile gross-out humor mixed in with their ethnic subversion. To all of the self-identified “grown-ups” in the room looking for serious engagement with the assault on civil rights stemming from the War on Terror, or the pernicious fall-out from America’s foreign policy blunders … you might be better off renting something
boring meaningful, like, say, The Road to Guantanamo. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, by contrast begins with poop, pubic hair, and masturbation — and that’s just the first 30 seconds or so.