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Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

An over-the-top and beyond-PC comedy that infuses party-hearty anarchy with hectoring moral outrage.

With:
Harold - John Cho Kumar - Kal Penn Ron Fox - Rob Corddry Deputy Frye - Jack Conley Dr. Beecher - Roger Bart Neil Patrick Harris - Neil Patrick Harris Vanessa - Danneel Harris Colton - Eric Winter Maria - Paula Garces Raymus - Jon Reep Raylene - Missi Pyle Cyrus - Mark Munoz George W. Bush - James Adomian Sally - Beverly D'Angelo Tits Hemingway - Echo Valley Goldstein - David Krumholtz Rosenberg - Eddie Kaye Thomas

Radical Muslim terrorists, inbred Deep Southerners, Homeland Security xenophobes and President George W. Bush are among the primary targets bruised and battered by the sledgehammering satire of “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” an over-the-top and beyond-PC comedy that sometimes deftly, sometimes slapdashedly infuses party-hearty anarchy with hectoring moral outrage. An appreciably more politically charged follow-up to 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (a piddling B.O. performer that nonetheless achieved cult-fave status on DVD), this raucous road-trip laffer, set for an April 25 release, should perform exceptionally well with auds primed by its predecessor.

Whether the pic can attract newcomers to the franchise –and score breakthrough success during its theatrical run — depends on the willingness of the masses to accept a sex-drugs-and-rock-‘n’-roll comedy so jeeringly critical of post-9/11 paranoia and so openly contemptuous of authoritarian excesses by U.S. government agencies charged with waging the war on terror.

It’s like “Animal House” meets “Dr. Strangelove” — although, truth be told, it’s highly unlikely even Stanley Kubrick would have dared attempt a scene like the one here in which an insanely overzealous Dept. of Homeland Security chief literally wipes his backside with the Bill of Rights.

Not that the entire pic is a slapsticky, scatological remix of a Keith Olbermann tirade. Indeed, long stretches are simply variations of comic riffs from the first “Harold & Kumar” misadventure. Once again, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), pot-toking twentysomethings with drastically dissimilar degrees of ambition, set out on a cross-country quest fueled by their taste for Cannabis. Also once again, the buddies manage to subvert stereotypes (even while playing them for laughs) during close encounters with strangers who range from seriously weird to downright dangerous.

And yes, once again, the boys cross paths with Neil Patrick Harris, who takes unseemly delight in playing himself as a drug-consuming sexaholic who exploits his “Doogie Howser” fame at every opportunity.

The big difference this time is that, instead of seeking a beloved burger joint, Harold and Kumar are on the run because, after being mistaken for terrorists while aboard an Amsterdam-bound plane and getting shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, they miraculously escape and flee to Florida. From there, they must somehow make their way to Texas and seek help from Harold’s politically well-connected former classmate (Eric Winter) — who just happens to be preparing his wedding to Kumar’s former sweetheart (Danneel Harris).

Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), the aforementioned Homeland Security chief with the personal hygiene problems, leads the massive manhunt for the fugitives he assumes represent a link to a new nexus of Al Qaeda and North Korean terrorists. Corddry plays the wild-eyed zealot as a live-action cartoon who unthinkingly offends Jews, blacks and marginally less rabid colleagues (including an increasingly frustrated Roger Bart) in the name of keeping America safe.

In sharp contrast, President Bush comes off as affably easygoing, primarily because James Adomian plays him as a mild-and-hazy guy, much like … well, Harold and Kumar. (It will be interesting to see which of these comic constructs incites the most vehement condemnation from right-wing bloggers and commentators.)

Subtlety isn’t the strong point of this free-wheeling farrago written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, scripters of the previous “Harold & Kumar” opus. Most of the gags are almost entirely apolitical, and some of the biggest laughs are generated by brazenly gratuitous nudity, sniggering sexual activity and considerable consumption of illicit drugs, almost all of it with amusing consequences.

A similar what-the-hell attitude permeates the entire pic: While the production values are by no means sloppy, there is little sign anyone involved perceived slickness as a goal worth pursuing.

Here and there, however, the madcap zaniness and frat-house boisterousness are laced with something not unlike righteous rage about racial profiling, extraordinary rendition and government-authorized oppression. Auds will be left feeling that if characters as harmless as Harold and Kumar (engagingly replayed by Cho and Penn) can wind up unfairly imprisoned, even in the context of a broad comedy, something is terribly wrong with the system.

In its own wacky way, “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” is one of the ballsiest comedies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. No kidding.

Popular on Variety

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Production: A New Line Cinema release and presentation in association with Mandate Pictures of a Kingsgate Films production. Produced by Greg Shapiro, Nathan Kahane. Executive producers, Joe Drake, Carsten Lorenz, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener. Co-producers, Nicole Brown, Kelli Konop, Michael Disco, Samuel J. Brown, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg. Directed, written by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, based on characters created by Hurwitz, Schlossberg.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Daryn Okada; editor, Jeff Freeman; music, George S. Clinton; music supervisor, Season Kent; production designer, Tony Fanning; art director, Kevin Hardison; set decorator, Vera Mills; costume designer, Shawn Holly Cookson; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Richard Schexnayder; assistant director, Bruce Terris; casting, Richard Hicks, David Rubin. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Spotlight Premieres), March 8, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Harold - John Cho Kumar - Kal Penn Ron Fox - Rob Corddry Deputy Frye - Jack Conley Dr. Beecher - Roger Bart Neil Patrick Harris - Neil Patrick Harris Vanessa - Danneel Harris Colton - Eric Winter Maria - Paula Garces Raymus - Jon Reep Raylene - Missi Pyle Cyrus - Mark Munoz George W. Bush - James Adomian Sally - Beverly D'Angelo Tits Hemingway - Echo Valley Goldstein - David Krumholtz Rosenberg - Eddie Kaye Thomas

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