Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay faced many hurdles as it headed into theaters. First, it is common knowledge that most sequels are victims of the law of diminishing returns. For those who are unfamiliar with this theory, it states that for every additional unit of a variable inputted will yield less additional output. In the business of theatrical features, this was almost always taken as the norm. With only a small number of variables (Godfather II and The Empire Strikes Back), most sequels provide less action, less comedy, less horror, and are generally less inspired than their predecessors.
One thing you notice about the recent history of sequels that prove to be equally successful, or even exceed the original, the one constant variable is the return of both the stars and the director. When Spider-Man 2 outperformed the first film, it was because Sam Raimi remained on board to lead the returning cast, and they in turn exceeded their initial outing. However, even Spider-Man fell to diminishing returns when the third film in the franchise failed to match up to either of the previous films.
While John Cho and Kal Penn returned as Harold and Kumar respectively, the first part of that equation was fulfilled. Unfortunately, the man most responsible for the success of the first film, director Danny Leiner, did not return. As a result, what was once an inventive and creative idea became clichéd and slightly boring. The writers from the first film took over the director’s chair and gave us more of the same old jokes, albeit with pacing problems, falling short of the first film.
The movie begins immediately following the conclusion of the original. Harold finally got the nerve to tell Maria how he felt about her only to find out she was also interested but was leaving for ten days in Amsterdam. Harold and Kumar decide to follow her to Amsterdam because (a) Harold does not want to mess up this chance with Maria and (b) drugs are legal there, man. Things do not go as planned, in much the same way as their trip to White Castle, as they face seemingly insurmountable odds. The main problem is Kumar brings a new invention onboard the plane. It is a bong that has a device built in to eliminate the odor of pot smoke and replace it with a nice fragrance. Of course, it looks like a bomb, and thanks to the fear of terrorism, the two end up incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay because of an ignorant Homeland Security official (Rob Corddry) who believes North Korea is now in cahoots with the al-Qaeda.
This stay in prison lasts barely a day as the two escape and go on the run. The rest of the movie is almost a repeat of the first film, and that is the biggest problem. The first quip when they escape is to watch out for cheetahs. While we don’t see a cheetah, we do see many of the same jokes from the first one. The two met up with another hillbilly in the woods with a hot wife but it is nowhere near as funny as Freakshow from the first film. Christopher Meloni does return, this time as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but his part of the movie does not touch his role as Freakshow. Where the first movie just kind of slapped you in the face with retarded humor, this sequel went for the cheap laughs. Watching Kumar jack off and spooge on his face is not as original as the sores oozing puss from Freakshow’s neck in the first film. The entire film feels forced and falls flat.
There is nothing in the new movie that matches up to the creative devices of Leiner’s first film such as the animated hamburger land scene. The love dream sequence between Kumar and the bag of pot returns, in an actual threesome, but it also is nowhere near as entertaining as the first one. It sounds like I am just ripping on the new movie, and that may be true, but there are things in this movie to like. First is the reappearance of Neil Patrick Harris. While his role in the first one was a highlight, he really shines in this one bringing the most entertaining scenes in the entire movie. I will say that the scene he shares with Christmas Vacation mother Beverly D’Angelo was comic gold and the most unexpected scene in either of the Harold and Kumar films.
The law of diminishing returns brings this movie down, thanks to uninspired jokes, flat setups, and unoriginality from start to finish. Even if the movie was a standalone affair, it still would not match up to the level of its fellow stoner comedies. As a sequel to an outstanding feature film, it can only be considered a huge disappointment. Only the acting of John Cho and Kal Penn, as well as the continued excellence of Neil Patrick Harris as he mocks himself, helps this movie rise above the level of many comedies over the last few years. It is still miles better than the generic spoof films we have been bombarded with (Superhero Movie, I’m looking at you), and makes me wish Leiner had returned with his lead actors.