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The Harold & Kumar Series

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (April 21/08)

There's little doubt that Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle fares a whole lot better than the majority of its stoner-comedy brethren (ie Half Baked), as the film boasts two lead characters that essentially transcend the limitations of the genre thanks to their overtly relatable qualities. Screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg offer up an episodic storyline that follows potheads Harold (Cho) and Kumar (Penn) as they attempt to satisfy their hunger pangs by tracking down a White Castle restaurant, with the duo's efforts consistently hampered by a myriad of interruptions and delays (including a hilarious encounter with past-and-present sitcom star Neil Patrick Harris). Director Danny Leiner has infused Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle with an expectedly straight-forward sensibility that hardly belies the production's low budget, and while certain sequences are simply unable to elicit even a chuckle from the viewer (ie Battle Shits), Cho and Penn's easy-going work - as well as their palpable chemistry with one another - tends to carry the film through its admittedly hit-and-miss structure. And as funny as some of the more over-the-top moments are - ie Harold and Kumar's run-in with a creepy mountain man aptly named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni) - there's no denying that the movie's most entertaining interludes are generally its simplest (ie the titular pair enthusiastically sing along to Wilson Phillips' "Hold On"). The filmmakers' decision to subtly tackle several racial stereotypes periodically infuses the proceedings with a surprisingly relevant vibe, although - ultimately - it's the believability of the central characters' friendship that cements Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle's success.

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Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (April 30/08)

As is usually the case with comedic sequels, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay - like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey before it - has been infused with an uncomfortably over-the-top sensibility that handily obliterates the easy-going feel of its predecessor (ie it's bigger but rarely better). Filmmakers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg's decision to ape the structure of the original certainly doesn't help matters, as the movie often comes off as a second-rate carbon copy (and as hit-and-miss as Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle may have been, this one is virtually all miss). The episodic storyline - which follows Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) as they're forced to go on the run following a misunderstanding aboard an international flight - admittedly moves at a downright frenetic pace, with the titular duo thrown into a seemingly relentless series of unreasonably broad situations (ie the two encounter a one-eyed hillbilly, stumble onto a Ku Klux Klan meeting, attend a bottomless party, etc, etc) - yet it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the unmistakable vibe of desperation that's been hard-wired into the majority of such sequences. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay tends to lurch from one distinctly unfunny set-piece to another, with the inclusion of several underwhelming supporting characters only exacerbating the movie's various problems (Rob Corddry's one-note Homeland Security boss is surely the most obvious example of this). Hurwitz and Schlossberg's efforts at tackling issues of race and bigotry fall completely flat, as the pair's eye-rollingly heavy-handed modus operandi is almost offensive in its lack of subtlety. And while one certainly can't deny the effectiveness of Neil Patrick Harris' all-too-brief return, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is otherwise as underwhelming a followup as one could possibly imagine.

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© David Nusair