Innumerable sharks lurk in the ocean between New Jersey and Cuba, and Harold and Kumar just jumped every one of them.
The slacker duo's second film, Harold & Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay, lacks the fresh charm that made their first such an unexpected (if guilty) pleasure. Word-of-mouth is bad, so producers should pray that their bong-hitting target audience is alert enough internationally.
What's worse is a good, meaty chunk of the film has been edited for local cinema release, so watch at your own risk.
The odd-couple protagonists are drawn more broadly here than in their debut, an approach that Harold (John Cho) survives better than his co-star, Kumar (Kal Penn).
After the funny starting sequence, in which Kumar brings a high-tech bong on an international flight and gets them both mistaken for would-be bombers, the character's string of stupid moves play out less like endearing haplessness than like willful, inexplicable attempts to wreck his buddy's life.
The boys get sent to Gitmo, depicted not with any political edge but as a generic house of squalor. They quickly escape on a raft – going on the lam in the direction of Texas via Miami. Don't expect to see much of Miami in Dubai thanks to a bad cut and paste job, but what follows next is really when the story begins.
In Texas, a well-connected acquaintance (who's about to marry Kumar's ex-girlfriend) might help get the Feds off their backs. Those G-men are led by Rob Corddry, a gifted comedian who, even after years of studied cluelessness on The Daily Show, can't make the script's one-note Patriot Act-enabled incompetence entertaining for more than a few minutes.
The ensuing road trip has a bright spot or two (a fantasy ménage a trois with a bag of pot and an earnest love poem built around a nerdy math conceit) but seems intentionally dumbed-down. Neil Patrick Harris also reappears but don't expect him to return if there is a third film. Watch this installment to know more.
By the time a George Bush lookalike arrives to offer unlikely assistance, the audience will rightly expect the script to fumble that comic opportunity as well. (With inputs from Bindu Rai)