Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Complete Adventures of Harold & Kumar

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (aka "Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies") (2004)
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Dan Bochart, Neil Patrick Harris, Ethan Embry, and Paula Garces
Director: Danny Leiner
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A pair of pot-smoking roommates, Harold and Kumar (Cho and Penn), get a severe case of the munchies and an overwhelming craving for hamburgers after seeing a TV commercial for fastfood chain White Castle. They set out to visit an all-night White Castle, but their simple trip turns into a major quest as they drive, run, ride, and hangglide through the strangest night of their lives.

"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" starts out seeming like it's going to be a predictable cross between a stoner comedy and a road picture. As it unfolds, however, it becomes far more than that, brimming with well-delivered social commentary and bizarre surreal humor.

The film's title characters are likewise a multicultural cross between Bing Crosby and Bob Hope from the "Road to..." pictures, and Jack Lemon and Walter Mathau's "Odd Couple" characters--Harold is of Korean extraction and Kumar has Indian roots, but they are both very firmly American. They serve as the primary conduit for the film's running commentary on what a bad idea it is to buy into the notion that there is such a thing as "race identity" and the film's constant use of stereotypes to both undermine that they are useful when dealing with other individuals and to make points about how they may even limit our ideas about ourselves. (Kumar, for example, spends so much time fighting against the stereotypical notion that Indians are either overachieving doctors or store clerks that he's been ignoring his own exceptional abilities and talents, while Harold has so bought into the notion that Asians are boring numbers-crunchers that he's been denying himself and Kumar all sorts of opportunities for partying and more.

As for the film's progression, it starts out fairly tame, but gets stranger and wilder as it unfolds. The high point of the absurdity (and hilarity) comes when our heroes find themselves face-to-face with an escaped cheetah that is referred to repeatedly in the background. A close second is when Neil Patrick Harris appears in a small role spoofing himself.

"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" delivers intelligent messages and commentary wrapped within the lowest of lowbrow humor--such as a game of "Battleshits" and the aforementioned appearance by Neil Patrick Harris--without ever straying into the territory of being preachy. If you don't mind offcolour humour and satire taken to extreme levels of absurdity, you'll love this movie.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddroy, Danneel Harris, and Neil Patrick Harris
Directors: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Harold (Cho) and Kumar (Penn) are mistaken for terrorists when Kumar decides to use his smokeless bong on a Trans-Atlantic flight. They are confined to Guantanamo Bay by an overzealous (and dumb-as-a-bag-of-rocks) Homeland Security official (Corddroy). Will our heroes manage to escape the toughest prison on Earth in time to stop Kumar's ex-girlfriend (Harris) from marrying a complete douchebag? Will they manage to prove they're just regular Americans instead of terrorists? Will they survive another encounter with former child star Neil Patrick Harris (played by Neil Patrick Harris)?

"Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" has all the lowbrow humor, shots to the crotch, nudity, and off-color jokes than you'd expect from a stoner comedy. However, it also delivers some hilarious political satire--which seems to have gone over the heads of most critics--and a running commentary on American culture and race relations, multiculturalism, and REAL patriotism and love for America.

Yes, this is one very smart and intelligent stoner comedy that provides more serious and insightful commentary on the current state of American society and the "War on Terror" than all those crappy political screeds (like "Lions for Lambs" and "Stop-Loss") combined. If you have patience for off-color humor, I recommend you check out this movie. You'll smile, you'll laugh, AND you'll do some thinking. Plus, Harold and Kumar are two of the most loveable characters you'll ever laugh at... and Neil Patrick Harris is one of the scariest characters you'll ever laugh at.

(By the way, if you're at the conservative end of the political spectrum and you like listening to talk radio, don't buy what some of the hosts were saying about this film when it was released. While they were busy taking offense over the film's portrayal of President George Bush, they failed to notice that Bush is a good guy in the film, and he's one of the few characters that Harold and Kumar interact with who actually truly is interested in their well-being, helps them, and does exactly what he promises to do.

If the Harold & Kumar movies sound interesting to you, you might like the "Evil Bong" movies, which are reviewed here, at the Charles Band Collection. A third "Evil Bong" movie is currently under development and scheduled to start shooting this Fall.

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