Never have I seen a smart comedy as dumb as 'Harold & Kumar Excape from Guantanamo Bay.' Er, rather, a dumb comedy as smart? Here's a film that somehow manages to tackle such thorny, topical issues as race relations and civil rights abuses, mixes them with the lowest-common denominator humor of a 'Porky's' picture, and even has time to stop in for a visit to George Bush's sex den (don't ask). At times brilliantly subversive, and at others insanely moronic, it's sort of like a live-action version of 'South Park,' had it starred Cheech & Chong. It's as frustratingly uneven as it sounds.
The plot could have been conceived in a blender, which gives it is own weird logic. Beginning only moments after our doper duo's last caper ('Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle') ended, we find them headed off to Amsterdam in search of designer drugs and trans-continental babes (not necessarily in that order). But when their precious bong gets mistaken for a bomb in a uncomfortable incident of racial profiling at the airport, Harold & Kumar (again played by Kal Penn and John Cho) are mistaken for terrorists and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, where they soon find themselves in orange jumpsuits and sharing a cell with a goat (again, don't ask).
It's here that 'Harold & Kumar Escape to Guantanamo Bay' begins to assert its smarts. A prison sex slave rebellion allows the pair to escape, leading to a series of even more incredulous (and at times just plain vulgar) escapades, including dodging vigilantes who mistake the pair for Mexican illegals, a up-in-the-air gun fight fit for a James Bond movie, and even a psychotic Homeland Security official who places the pair in detention, eventually leading to the aforementioned George Bush sex den. It's this sublime tactic of wrapping heady political and cultural satire within a blanket of stupid lowbrow humor that gives 'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' its bite.
Make no mistake, this movie will likely offend everyone at some point. It's often so raw and unrefined it borders uncomfortably on the crude (and seriously tests the bounds of the NC-17, even if not seen in the Unrated version presented here). It's also sexist (but not homophobic), which is all the better to lure in the Red State mentality it seeks to simultaneously placate/mock. Few human orifices are left unexploited, yet at the same time, no prejudice is left unchallenged. If sometimes shoddily put together (the film can look cheap, the supporting performances are uneven and the pacing choppy), there is something to admire in a film that makes its audience squirm as often as it makes them laugh.
Despite such a rebellious streak, 'Escape from Guantanamo Bay' is just not as much fun as 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.' That film, if less ambitious, achieved a more consistent tone, and often the only thing holding 'Escape from Guantanamo Bay' together is Penn and Cho, who are even more on-target in their timing and delivery here. But much of the rest of 'Guantanamo Bay' is a hit-or-miss mess, from a far too episodic structure ('White Castle' was brilliant in its simple, linear design) to a disappointing return cameo by Neil Patrick Harris (who was such a bright spot in the original). I still liked 'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' for its sheer refusal to rest on the laurels of the original film, even if I didn't laugh as consistently or as hard as I did while watching the first one.
New Line offers a 1080p/VC-1 encode for 'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' (1.85:1). It's just a fair presentation, with the film's limited budget and uninspired visual design hardly offering the foundation for a great high-def transfer.
The source is as clean as you'd expect for a new release, but the film still looks a bit cheap. There is a minimal amount of grain throughout, and a general veneer of softness. Colors are too plugged up, with the muted palette appearing to be boosted with some digital post-production enhancement that mucks up fleshtones and is a tad noisy. Detail is fair, with only the sporadic shot enjoying any great depth. Some edge enhancement has also been applied, which results in slight ringing and a slight artificial cast that further detracts. There are no major compression artifacts, though I noticed a few jagged edges on shots of slow panning motions. 'Harold & Kumar' get a decent enough transfer, but this is no demo disc.
Really, now -- does a movie like 'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' really deserve a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit, no less)? Judging by this mix, not so much -- this is laudable overkill, if overkill none the less.
Despite the 7.1, this is a pretty nondescript comedy soundtrack. Dynamics are appropriate to the material if just decent -- dialogue is well recorded, clarity across the frequency spectrum is perfectly adequate and the subwoofer supports the action well. The mix is front-heavy, however, so even with the expansive number of channels in the rear, I was hard-pressed to notice it. Discrete effects are sporadic and don't take much advantage of the four surround speakers. Rarely is there a forceful surround presence, or even much creativity in terms of integration of effects and score. The source is perfectly clean at least, and I had no dialogue volume problems. I applaud New Line for supporting 7.1 surround audio as always, but 'Harold & Kumar' doesn't benefit much from such an upgrade.
'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' comes to Blu-ray with quite an extensive spate of supplements, and matches the DVD extra for extra. In some cases they're far more fun than the main feature, fans should really get a kick out of the material. (All bonus features are presented in full 1080 video, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.)
'Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' is everything you would expect from a Harold & Kumar film -- it's juvenile, tasteless, and slapdash in its construction. Unfortunately, it's just not as inspired as the original 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle' (if that's not an oxymoron), so despite a few funny bits it comes off as quite uneven. This Blu-ray is likewise mixed -- the video and audio support the material well but hardly supply a demo disc, making the extensive supplements the real highlight here. Still, since its target audience is pre-sold no matter what the goods, 'Escape from Guantanamo Bay' is worth a look for Harold & Kumar fans.