Background: The politics of pot in Hollywood is a complex subject meant for better forums than this but suffice it to say that people in the industry have long taken up the cause of legalization against those mean old politicians in the nation's capital, taking many jabs at them in popular entertainment. A lot of movie characters in films are popularized by the stoner crowd too, even before my youthful favorites of the cause, Cheech & Chong, brought the concept to a whole new level. Hollywood generally shows potheads to be goofy, stupid, and benign as antiheroes but rarely as the leading protagonists, another set emerging in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Blu-Ray), the sequel to their 2004 hit about getting hamburgers.
Movie: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay rejoins the comic team of Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) as they contemplate their future. Harold is turning into an even more uptight banker with Neocon ties to government and Kumar is again lost in his quest for smoke as he sobs about his lost love, Vanessa (Danneel Harris). The pair are going to vacation in Amsterdam where everything Kumar embraces is legal, while Harold plans to run into gal pal Maria (Paula Garces) by coincidence. After a hokey run in with an airport screener, the two leads are merrily on their way but Kumar is unable to resist trying out his new invention, a smokeless bong that looks much like a high tech bomb. Harold points out the idiocy of risking it all midflight when they are hours away from a pothead paradise but Kumar knows what he wants and proceeds, despite looking much like a "towel-headed freak" to a nervous old lady passenger (Juli Erickson) so much that she imagines him with a turban and beard repeatedly, keeping an eye on him at all times. Some turbulence causes the door to open as Kumar puffs away so mindlessly and shouts of "terrorist" panic everyone to the point where both lads are whisked away to Homeland Security when the plane is turned around.
Harold is pissed off at Kumar and Kumar is oblivious to the predicament they are in when a government agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) takes an interest in them as being possibly a link between Al-Qaida and North Korea, the means to a corner office and big promotion while his superior is away on a camping trip. The boys know nothing about terrorism and as holdouts are shipped off to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where they are expected to be broken into submission thanks in part to the guards so willing to force prisoners into giving oral sex. They fight with prisoners but escape within twenty minutes of getting there, making it off the island along with some boat people conveniently waiting to ship off nearby. They are then on the run and that makes up the majority of the movie, perhaps in large part because the titular Guantanamo Bay was too tough to write comedic episodes for the staff. Their adventures around the country as they seek out Vanessa's fiancÚ Colton (Eric Winter) to assist them in clearing up the misunderstanding that led them to becoming fugitives result in the usual pile of rapid fire social commentary and LCD humor at the expense of just about everyone that comes to mind.
Okay, the stereotypes addressed should be enough to offend just about everyone, from gays to those living in the south to minorities to Jews. Lest it be said that the movie glorifies potheads, it should be pointed out that Kumar is shown to be the lamest of lame brains when it comes to his decision making abilities and Harold is inconsistently rendered here as well. This unrated version of the movie almost certainly had more nudity (from the Texan whorehouse to the bottomless party to the Red Light District in Amsterdam) that even if ill used in context of the movie (most of these sections looking like an excuse to party with low end porn performers, a few of whom I recognized) seemed to weaken the forward momentum of the escape theme. The comedic attempts to look at stereotyping from a reverse standpoint (the blacks looking like street thugs turning out to be professionals, the redneck couple amounting to new age art deco snobs) were in high contrast to the way the agents were so mean-spiritedly portrayed as one track mind meanies or the quickly written off KKK segment (where there was so much more potential to be explored) made it seem like there were actually two types of movie going on at the same time (neither succeeding as a result). Neil Patrick Harris as himself, in a nod to the first movie by the duo, was simply goofy and the biggest highlight of the flick ended up being James Adomian in his popular role as President George W. Bush (his handjob analogy about hypocrisy being the most poignant remark of all!).
Comedy being subjective and all, I'm sure some people probably laughed at the use of pennies to torture the two Jewish friends of the team or the grape soda episode with the blacks but even with as many rapid fire jokes as the movie had, you would expect a few of them to hit with those watching it that were not under the influence of some substance. Given the title, I'd have imagined that more footage about the prison would have been included but it ended up as almost a footnote to the rambling storyline instead of the central premise, making me acutely aware of the poor choice in title ("On the Run" or something similar would have fit better even though it wouldn't serve to promote the political leanings of the creative crew here). So, those of you potheads that like being goofed on, generic movie fans that have set the bar so low that anything will do for the occasional laugh, and the anti-establishment types that want to see the current president made to look sympathetic will probably disagree with my rating of Skip It. As random as the segments were within the confines of the script, they simply failed to impress me that anyone knew what they were doing and at the price of a current blu-ray offering, there are better selections available for your hard earned money.
Picture: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Blu-Ray) was presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen color offering using the VC-1 codec in full 1080p with an average video bitrate of about 22 Mbps. While there was some grain at times, particularly in the military airplane and prison scenes, this was not usually the case and any video noise was minimal too. The fleshtones were accurate and it looked very much like a newly shot release in most cases, some edge enhancement observed for those that care to analyze a movie such as this to the nth degree. The themes were supported by the photography too, the whorehouse looking gaudy, the prison drab and damp looking aside from the orange jumpsuits, and the smoke filled cabin used by the team as they puffed with the President suitably subdued. There did appear to be two separate "looks" to the composition of the movie, perhaps due to the second unit having a different take on the way the elements should be shot, but the visuals were never the big problem with the movie as far as I was concerned.
Sound: The primary audio channel was in a 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio lossless (with a generic 5.1 DTS Surround offered as well) using optional subtitles in English and Spanish. The sampling rate was 48 kHz and the average audio bitrate appeared to clock in somewhere in the mid 4.5 Mbps, varying as needed by the source material. One of the first things I noticed was how defined some of the ambient noises were at times, using the rear speakers more than average (a lot more!) but some of that was covered up by the louder music tracks that were set aggressively in the mix. The vocals were crisp and clear though, allowing for all the jokes to be heard easily, the headspace used to place each on screen element really well. The music employed here was such that most of the songs (or at least portions of their lyrics) fit the onscreen happenings better than average too, making future cuts a concern much more than generic music would have had. There had been some concerns about audio "pops" or "clicks" made online and I found that some barely noticeable noise was apparent on the locations of the branches that the optional "Change the Movie" spots were found (though I didn't hear them on a friend's machine when I first played the movie).
Extras: For some of you, the digital copy of the movie included in the case will be the best extra. It allows you to download a code to unlock the second disc for playing it on a portable device (I don't have one) and rather than fret about the extra couple of seconds it would take to convert the full release onto such a device, it was a nice touch to provide. There were two audio commentaries this time that I spot checked a bit. The first had the director and writer joined by the leads of the movie to give a variety of comments regarding the making of the movie, briefly touching upon the lengthy wait from the last flick, the technical obstacles, some of the decisions made for where to take the humor, and how differently it could have been. The second had the creators joined by Adomian (maintaining his trademarked persona as the likeable George W. Bush) and the real life inspiration for the Harold Lee character. This was less informative and the idea that "a little bit goes a long way" certainly came to mind regarding the impersonation of the President. Some of you may enjoy the limited amount of rearranging you can do to the film elements with the "Dude Change the Movie" option (sadly, it did not allow for the lamer jokes to be removed since that would make the movie about as long as a long form trailer). The hordes of deleted scenes looked unfinished and added little to the show, easily seen why they were deleted for the most part (not all 17 of them but most), and there were another ten that were mostly outtakes or different takes on scenes that showed the process of the scenes evolving as shot (lack of planning displayed in aces!). There were some trailers and a longer "Making of" feature that gave some insights while serving as a puff piece for the movie, unapologetically cheerleading the movie as though it were something far better. Lastly, there was a public service announcement by James Adomian as the President that wasn't bad, despite the creepy nature of the makeup he wore.
Final Thoughts: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay was the type of movie that some people will always like, it lets you set your mind on autopilot and cruise through the release as if you were toking something illegal and not having a worry in the world. In terms of the multitude of forced humor segments, they were usually just weak instead of terribly bad, showing a laziness by the writing team to try and fit the pieces together rather than serve up a mish mash of tidbits that were so hit or miss (usually miss though). If it took four years to make this as a sequel, perhaps another team of writers could be brought on to expand the concept for the inevitable direct-to-video third release in the series, even the current wildly uneven SNL staff could come up with something better on short notice. In short, despite some decent extras and technical values, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Blu-Ray) was not only unworthy of the high definition treatment it was given but even the SD version from where I sit. If you like this sort of thing, good for you, but it didn't work on so many levels that it might as well have come from the folks making those parody movies critics love to tear into these days ("brought to you by...").