Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Jack Conley, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris, Danneel Harris, Eric Winter, Paula Garcés
Picking up right where Harold and Kumar go to White Castle left off (but with its main characters looking curiously three years older), Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay begins with its two weed-loving protagonists (Cho and Penn, respectively) planning a trip to Amsterdam where Harold hopes to hook-up with his special lady friend, Maria (Garcés). This plan is disrupted when Kumar's ill-advised attempt to demonstrate his smoke-free bong technology in an airplane lavatory gets them mistaken for terrorists and shipped off to the titular US military detention facility. They escape shortly after arriving and catch a boat to Miami, which begins a mock Odyssey (honestly -- there's even a cyclops along the way) across the southern United States to Texas where they hope to reach their politically well-connected friend, Colton Graham (Winter). All the while, they are being pursued by Homeland Security agent Ron Fox (Corddry), whose patriotism is only outstripped by his paranoia and racist ignorance. Complicating matters further is the fact that Colton Graham is engaged to marry Vanessa (Harris), Kumar's "one that got away" college sweetheart.
Despite what one may assume from its title, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is not an ambitious left turn into political satire from the folks who brought you Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. The sequel's heart remains firmly devoted to the sex, dope, and bodily fluid comedy mission of its predecessor. Any question of that is erased during the film's prologue and opening credits sequence which features Kumar's post-White Castle defecation complete with detailed discussion, and a 100% gratuitous masturbation scene that ends messily.
Even if you are the "you had me at 'gratuitous masturbation'" type who enjoys this kind of comedy, the film is still very hit and miss. For every gag that lands solidly, there are a half dozen that are too sophomoric and/or oversold too be funny. I never saw the theatrical cut, but I have a sneaking suspicion based on points made on the commentary track that I would enjoy it more than the unrated director's cut on this DVD. A number of the jokes in the film rely on shock, but then they continue on in protracted manner with additional graphic detail to the point of boredom. Rather than simply use the more graphic image for the unrated cut, they throw in everything but the kitchen sink, extending the sequence beyond the point of having any impact at all.
That being said, the filmmakers do not half-step it when it comes to offering unrated material, and fans of gratuitous filmed nudity will surely appreciate the extended sequence at a "bottomless" party in Miami. There is also no shortage of graphic dialog and bits of extra vulgarity to ensure that the "unrated" label is merited. Writer/Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg also clearly took the stoner part of their audience into consideration by structuring the film into episodic vignettes ideal for viewers with short term memory issues.
Curiously enough, a lot of the stuff that works best has to do with call backs to the first Harold and Kumar film, including an extended sequence where Neil Patrick Harris plays an outrageous version of himself. David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas are amusing in a throwaway scene where Goldstein and Rosenberg are interrogated by Homeland Security, and Christopher Meloni appears once again in heavy make-up, but playing a different character. As for the additions this time out, Rob Corddry is generally very funny as the racist gung-ho Homeland Security agent, a somewhat under-used Roger Bart is amusing as his far more intelligent continuously frustrated subordinate, James Adomain has fun with his George W. Bush impersonation, and Ed Helms has a very funny cameo as a none-too-bright Korean interpreter.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 transfer enhanced for 16:9 televisions. Overall, I was disappointed by its somewhat soft and filtered look through most of its running time. This may be related to the film's relatively low-budget origins, but I suspect it also has something to do with encoding the 108 minute film as well as all of the "Dude Change the Movie" branching segments on a single dual layered disc. Film grain is present throughout, but not fully resolved, resulting in a slight smearing effect.
The film is presented with two English language audio tracks in the Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 pro-logic formats. Both are optimized/pre-equalized for home theater according to the menu, so turn that THX eq off, kids. I only listened to the 5.1 track for the purpose of this review. I was much more pleased with the audio than the video for this release. The 5.1 mix is not especially ambitious in terms of dimensionality, but fidelity overall was quite good, and there was some multichannel fun to be had from the pop music underscore, a skydiving sequence, and Kumar's bowel movement that kicks off the film.
The "Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition" adds a considerable number of supplements not found on the single disc release, omitting only the R-rated version of the film. On the first disc, there is a branching feature called Dude, Change the Movie. After an intro/tutorial from Cho and Penn that explains how it works, this feature inserts ten branching points into the film, all conveniently with their own chapter stops, where the viewer is asked either to make a choice or answer a question in one of two ways that will alter the events of the film. The choices are presented on screen while the voices of Harold and Kumar humorously comment on the options and encourage the viewer to use their DVD remote to choose one of them. The questions/labels for the branching points are as follows: Should Kumar smoke the weed?; How many Air Marshals did he say?, Freedom or Cockmeat?, Top or Bottom?, Guess who's coming to dinner?, Dream time!, Do you want to hear what Goldstein does in his spare time?, What do you do on boring roadtrips?, Colton?, Kumar's Poem, and Maria's Choice. Some of the choices sound like they would radically alter the course of the movie, and sure enough, a number of them cause the movie to end prematurely with a dedicated credit sequence (after which the viewer is returned to the appropriate decision/branching point to choose the other option if they wish.) The branched segments range from an extended shot on video sequence, complete alternate versions of some scenes in the movie, sequences deleted for running time, and a few bits shot on film just as a gag for the DVD.
Next up are two audio commentaries featuring writer/directors Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz. On the first commentary, they are joined by John Cho and Kal Penn. On the second, they are joined by the real Harold Lee and actor James Adomain. The first commentary is the most useful, as they mix in some interesting facts about the making of the film along with their general goofing on each other (it's about a 50/50 split). One slight irony stems from their frequent mention of their barrier-breaking use of non-stereotypical ethnic characters in the film and the film's general mission to subvert these stereotypes. I see their point for the most part, but watching the film, they also seemed to be trying to convey the message that not all white southerners are KKK members because some of them are in-breeders, too. The closest they come to subverting this stereotype is to suggest that the in-breeders could live in well appointed shacks with modern kitchens and large book collections. I guess their mission was not always to illustrate the stupidity of stereotypes, but to occasionally put the shoe on the other foot as well.
On the second commentary, large chunks of it are given over to Adomain commenting in character as George W. Bush or fictitious pretentious acting instructor "Mr. DeVries". This gets old pretty quickly as both characters spin improvised variations on the same jokes over and over again.
When disc one is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promotional trailers, all presented with 16:9 enhanced video and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound unless otherwise indicated below:
- DVD Trailer for Semi-Pro (:36)
- DVD Trailer for Run, Fatboy, Run(2:20)
- Trailer for Lost Boys: The Tribe DTV (4:3 letterboxed - 1:11)
- Anti-Tobacco PSA (:32)
The balance of the special features are found on the second disc. All are presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and all except the trailers are presented with optional English and Spanish Subtitles.
Inside the World of Harold and Kumar (21:34) is a very EPK-like "happy people interviewed on set" piece. Those interviewed to say how much they enjoyed working on the film include Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, John Cho, Kal Penn, David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Christopher Meloni, Rob Corddry, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Conley, Stunt Coordinator Steve Rizzi, Echo Valley, Daneel Harris, Ed Helms, Roger Bart, and Beverley D'Angelo.
Deleted Scenes (19:08 w/ "Play All") includes a collection of nineteen deleted, extended, or alternate sequences which can be watched individually or via a "Play All" option. As with the "Dude, Change the Movie" segments, describing them would frequently spoil part of the actual movie, so I will merely report that most of them include extra bits of comedic business for supporting characters, although Kal Penn gets an extended conversation on Marxism vs. Capitalism with a bottomless partygoer, and John Cho works the heck out of his falsetto in an alternate version of the opening shower sequence. The scene titles are: Neil's Dead, Fox Walk Up, Doves, Chloe Bottomless, Storming the Bus/Own Dem Titties, Alt. Cho Opening, KKK Stories ,lab/Corner office, Alt. Dinner/Venison, Agencies/Narc, Gitmo Escape Alt.[/i], Total Douchewad, Koo-Bah, General Plane Cut, Parking Validated, Kal Terrorist, Neil Poon Handler, and Neil Pussy Hound.
Extras (7:11 w/"Play All") collects bloopers, unused ad-libs, and various other types of outtakes, many of which feature Neil Patrick Harris riffing through various takes in the whorehouse scene. The outtake titles are: Wedding Doves Kiss, Colton Killed Ramon, Airport General, Angel of Cum, Done Her, Eenie Meenie, Don't Touch Me/Stick Out Tongue, Tits Hemingway Alt., and, my personal favorite of the bunch, Cyclops Outtakes, which features various takes of Harold's reaction to finding out he is bunking with a Cyclops.
Bush PSA (1:55) is a gag PSA in which James Adomian in character as a malapropping George W. Bush urges all Americans to go out and see the new Harold and Kumar movie.
Trailers Includes three trailers characterized as follows:
- Teaser Trailer (2.4:1 aspect ratio - :58)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:31) - Includes some alternate takes, presumably for the TV version that were not shown in the deleted scenes or outtakes.
- Red Band Trailer (3:15) Extra long with R-rated language and shots intact.
The DVDs are packaged in a standard sized Amaray-style case with an insert containing the code to unlock the digital copy of the film. The case is in turn placed in a carboard slipcover. While they used unique art for the slipcover, it looks like it was thrown together in about two minutes by someone new to Adobe Photoshop. At least they avoided my personal pet peeve of exactly duplicating the regular cover art with on the slipcover.
Fans of dope/gross-out comedy may enjoy this second hit of Harold and Kumar, but I personally found it to be too sophomoric, protracted, and inconsistent to be thoroughly entertaining. The image quality comes across a bit soft and filtered, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio offers very good fidelity. The DVD comes with a generous set of extras, the best of which are a novel branching feature called "Dude, Change the Movie", two full-length commentaries, and a better than expected assortment of outtakes and deleted scenes. The digital download included with the DVD is not compatible with iPods, so it is dead to me.