Sex, lies, stereotypes

Kerrie Mur­phy

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

ON pa­per, Harold and Ku­mar Go to White Cas­tle , re­leased in 2004, had all the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of other dumb- male come­dies such as the vac­u­ous Dude, Where’s My Car? You’d hardly ex­pect much from a film about two stoned guys in New Jer­sey who head out to the White Cas­tle burger chain be­cause it has small, square burg­ers known as Sly­ders, and have a se­ries of comic mis­ad­ven­tures on the way, in­clud­ing en­coun­ters with an ag­gres­sive ra­coon and for­mer child star Neil Pa­trick Har­ris, who in this uni­verse is a crazed, wom­an­is­ing drug pig.

But just as the films of Judd Apa­tow ( Su­per­bad, Knocked Up, The 40- Year- Old Vir­gin ) take plots made for cliched teen come­dies in the 1980s — say, guys try­ing to lose their vir­gin­ity — and give them heart and a fresh comic twist, Harold and Ku­mar Go to White Cas­tle was a film about more than the munchies.

It was clever be­cause in­stead of be­ing teenage slack­ers, Harold Lee ( John Cho) was a dili­gent in­vest­ment banker of Korean her­itage, while Ku­mar Pa­tel ( Kal Penn) had the ap­ti­tude to fol­low his fa­ther and brother into medicine. Th­ese char­ac­ters would be mere eth­nic stereotypes in most teen come­dies — think of the cringein­duc­ing Long Duk Dong in John Hughes’s Six­teen Can­dles — but in­stead they’re given cen­tre stage.

Turn­ing a plot as slight as that of White Cas­tle into a ter­rific movie was a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment, so com­ing up with a se­quel must have been daunt­ing. But Jon Hur­witz and Hay­den Schloss­berg, who wrote the first movie and wrote and di­rected the se­quel, have done pretty well the sec­ond time.

As the idea is no longer fresh and the plot has ba­si­cally the same struc­ture, it doesn’t quite match the orig­i­nal. But the se­quel de­liv­ers enough new de­vel­op­ments to keep it in­ter­est­ing.

Pick­ing up where White Cas­tle left off, Harold and Ku­mar Es­cape from Guan­tanamo Bay shows the duo head­ing off to Am­s­ter­dam so

Harold and Ku­mar Es­cape from Guan­tanamo Bay ( MA15+)

Na­tional release

Harold can pur­sue his dream girl Maria and Ku­mar can pur­sue, well, it’s Am­ster- freak­ing­dam. How­ever, Ku­mar, who is far too swarthy for most of his fel­low pas­sen­gers, de­cides to test his new smoke­less bong in the air­liner’s toi­lets and he’s mis­taken for a ter­ror­ist try­ing to blow up the plane. The pair are ar­rested and taken to Guan­tanamo Bay, where they man­age to es­cape and head back to the US to clear their names.

A lot of the com­edy is not par­tic­u­larly sub­tle and this se­quel has re­ally gone to town with the toi­let and sex­ual hu­mour, far more than the orig­i­nal. There’s a sur­pris­ing num­ber of gen­i­tals on dis­play, given how touchy the US is about nu­dity. And that’s not all that’s in your face. Their pur­suer, deputy chief of home­land se­cu­rity Ron Fox ( for­mer Daily Show cor­re­spon­dent Rob Corddry), is so des­per­ate to see ter­ror­ists that he is un­able to process the ob­vi­ous facts that dis­prove his con­clu­sions. He’s so racist that he tries to get Ku­mar’s Jewish friends to talk by wav­ing a small bag of gold in front of them and is un­able to com­pre­hend that a black man is a wit­ness, not a crim­i­nal. He tries to put the hard word on him by pour­ing grape soda on the ground ( ap­par­ently grape soda is stereo­typed African- Amer­i­can food akin to wa­ter­melon and fried chicken).

But in its broad strokes, Harold and Ku­mar man­ages to make jabs at the ridicu­lous blind­ness of the US war on ter­ror that are far fun­nier than the at­tempts of more right- on po­lit­i­cal satire.

Just as South Park works be­cause it likes to of­fend ev­ery­body, not just the Left or Right, Harold and Ku­mar doesn’t stick to the ob­vi­ous tar­gets. It does this by re­ally play­ing with racial stereotypes. It’s easy to judge the out­landish as­sump­tions of Fox, but much of the hu­mour hinges on our ten­dency to stereo­type var­i­ous eth­nic or so­cial groups.

One amus­ing ex­am­ple has Ku­mar stopped by air­port se­cu­rity for a sup­pos­edly ran­dom search. Ku­mar ac­cuses the se­cu­rity guard of racial pro­fil­ing and the guard ex­presses as­ton­ish­ment at the charge, given that he is black. Of course, we later dis­cover that Ku­mar has drugs, so had the search gone ahead it would have been jus­ti­fied, al­though not for the rea­son — Ku­mar’s skin colour — that sparked it in the first place.

As the movie pro­gresses you start to guess that any en­counter with a stereo­typed char­ac­ter is go­ing to chal­lenge con­ven­tional as­sump­tions. But once the au­di­ence is on to the game, the script will of­ten flip around and con­firm what it has just un­der­mined, with hi­lar­i­ous re­sults. Just be­cause they’re south­ern­ers doesn’t mean they’re red­necks, ex­cept of course when they re­ally are and it’s oh so dis­turb­ing. The film­mak­ers get away with all of this be­cause ev­ery­thing is so car­i­ca­tured that Harold and Ku­mar could al­most be liv­ing in an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse. So when the pair have an en­counter with Ge­orge W. Bush that’s of­fen­sive to both ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum by be­ing dis­re­spect­ful but not con­dem­na­tory, it’s far eas­ier just to go with the flow.

My main crit­i­cism of this film is the tim­ing of the release. It came out in the US in April, but with Bush in lame duck mode and the cam­paign for the next pres­i­dent well un­der way, some of the hu­mour about home­land se­cu­rity and Bush’s fail­ings is al­most passe. It’s lucky then that when all else fails, Harold and Ku­mar Es­cape From Guan­tanamo Bay knows how to pull out a good weed joke and some more Neil Pa­trick Har­ris. What more could you ask for?

The sec­ond time around: John Cho as Harold and Kal Penn as Ku­mar, with co- stars, in a se­quel that doesn’t quite match the orig­i­nal but fea­tures enough new plot twists to keep it in­ter­est­ing

Sus­pected ter­ror­ists: Harold and Ku­mar are in­ter­ro­gated by Ron Fox ( Rob Corddry)

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