I didn't really like Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
While the original was absurd, it was realistic. A raccoon could get in your car and jump on you. Late at night, in a convenience store parking lot, a punk may make pterodactyl noises at you. You may end up partying with a crazy celebrity. A weird hillbilly with ears maxed-out with ear wax may be the one to help you after you wreck your car, and he and his wife may try to have sex with you. People hang glide. And, crazy as it may seem, people do eat at White Castle.
But Guantanamo Bay bothered me. The situations were, to me, just...trying too hard. Or were repetitive. Harold was after Maria in the first movie. Kumar is after Vanessa in the second. We had Freakshow in the first movie, the cyclops in the second. Harold once again blaming Kumar for all their problems and Kumar coming through in the end. Smoking with George Bush is a funny concept, but...for me, it's a gag that's not crazy enough. Like, if they were somehow smoking with George Washington, that's ridiculous and funny to me. But I can't suspend disbelief for, what was, the current President of the United States. (Even though George W. Bush is more "realistic" than smoking with G-Dub, I don't think Guantanamo Bay scripted the Bush encounter well--I found it forced; and wouldn't there be Secret Service agents?????????????). And that was really the problem. I thought Guantanamo Bay was less grounded than the first movie, but not extreme enough. It existed in an odd middle ground that left me unsatisfied.
Then, ho-ho-ho, the third movie comes along and they gave us Waffle Bot. Hell yeah.
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Harold: John Cho
Kumar: Kal Penn
Neil Patrick Harris
Maria: Paula Garces
Maria's dad: Danny Trejo (of course)
So happy to be in this movie: Amir Blumenfeld (of College Humor)
Lame Todd: Thomas Lennon
Appears: Elias Koteas
The above picture is massive because I want you to look at it and ask yourself: how awesome is the idea of a robot that makes waffles? Not only that, a robot that can talk and loves you and also makes waffles?
And this is the realm A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas enters. The setting is still the world as we know it. But the rules are gone. A baby does three kinds of drugs. There's a robot that makes waffles and talks and loves you. There's Santa Claus.
"And you thought the second movie was trying too hard?"
Yeah, see, there's a difference. The second movie jumped all over. Amsterdam, Guantanamo Bay, Alabama, Texas. Everything, to me, seemed "big", like they were going for the "whoa" effect--there was lots of yelling. While there was lots of yelling in the first movie, the situations were realistic. Which meant there was a type of balance. The second movie has excessive reactions to excessive situations--there's no balance. It was also 102 minutes.
Christmas is anchored to NYC. It's 89 minutes. And the characters aren't reacting like THIS IS THE CRAZIEST SHIT IN THE WORLD ZOMGZ. The most emotion is shown by Harold and only in regards to finding a Christmas tree. What I am saying: in the third movie, Harold and Kumar take everything in stride. And their low-key reactions make the outrageous seem everyday. Harold, in a subdued voice: "I shot Santa in the face. He's real, and I shot him in the face."
The short running time, remaining in one city, the time the movie spends developing the first act (which is from the movie's beginning through the appearance of Koteas (playing a mob boss)), and how grounded Cho and Penn play the roles, all work to make the movie feel...contained. Crafted. Which I liked.
And don't forget the 3D. The movie hates on 3D. Something is thrown at the screen every few minutes. It's what I've been waiting for: a movie that says, "fuck this gimmick, let's mock it."
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a smart movie that took the conventional "quest" and "coming-of-age" stories and fused them with mayhem, the exploration of the humor in racial stereotypes, and weed, in only 88 minutes.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay was the first movie, but fatter. It was 102 minutes, and went for the same sort of humor but on a larger scale. IT'S A SEQUEL, IT HAS TO BE BIGGER Because Bigger is BETTER. Whoever came up with that concept is stupid. Also: the well-done racial humor of the first movie is, I think, in this second offering, blown out of proportion. It was funny in the first movie, so they made the sequel ALL ABOUT racial humor.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is a movie that says: fuck you, we're going to do what we think is awesome and you're going to deal with it. It uses the same characters, and yes, it is, again, a "quest" and a type of "coming-of-age" but the tone is different (more grounded). The pacing is different (the first act is a slow development). The beats and gags aren't the same as the other movies. The situations aren't the same. Even though old friends make appearances, they've changed--they're not one-dimensional but show signs of having lived (like "Seth Goldstein" meeting a girl and converting to Christianity). Goldstein's conversion is, and maybe I'm wrong, the ONE racial joke in the entire movie (it's at least the only one I was really aware of); the writers were smart enough to not focus on that element once again. But what I like best is that whoever is responsible for this movie recognized the absurd characteristics of the first two movies--for example, riding a cheetah, smoking pot with George W. Bush--and took this quality to the next level.
I like to think the director had this conversation with a studio executive:
"Hello, Todd, how's the movie coming along?"
"Hey, [Studio Executive's name]. Script is good. We're going to have a robot that makes waffles, but is sentient and is sort of mocking Wall-E."
"Oh. Well. Um. Won't people find that a bit...ridiculous?"
"Fuck. Them. I love waffles."
"Hm. Can I see that script. [Flips through script] You have Santa Claus as a character?"
"Because that way we can shoot him in the head."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"Why wouldn't I want to do that? Don't worry, he lives."
"[Executive is pacing around the room at this point, rifling through pages, forward and backward] There isn't a lot of weed? Our test shows the market for this movie is stoners. I really think we should have more scenes of Harold and Kumar getting high, I mean, that's what the brand is known for."
"Yeah, and that's why we won't do that, because it's fucking played out. If you want to be like every other stupid ass sequel that comes out, fine, yeah, we can insert all sorts of obvious weed jokes. Bonus!--doing that will make this movie feel EXACTLY like the last movies. So yeah, we can do that shit. But if you want to make a good movie, if you want to do this right, we include some weed shit, like, we'll have an entire claymation scene, because stoners love claymation, and obviously the characters will discuss weed because it's part of who they are, but, damnit man, I refuse to just do the same thing again and again. Back off. If you want me to make this movie, I'll make it how I wanna fucking make it. But I won't just...have everything be a...a...a rehash!"
"Oh. Uh. Well, I didn't think about it that way."
"You didn't laugh."
"Was I supposed to? You just gave a very serious speech."
"Did you not catch it?"
"At the end."
"I said 'rehash'."
"Yeah, you did....."
"Fuck man. HASH. I MADE A PUN."
"Oh. I didn--."
"Look, let me make the movie, you just...just...go get me waffles. And Elias Koteas. We need him in this thing."
(I'm aware that the same two guys wrote all three movies. So I probably should discuss them. And they're probably more responsible for the script than my made-up director in the above dialogue. But. I don't care.)
Did I Like It:
Yeah. This is my favorite of the three. I especially like how fucking excited Amir is. You can tell he loves every single line he is allowed to speak. If I were to teach a course on "How to properly execute a sequel" I would show the three movies of this series. The second movie, is "how not to properly execute a sequel." The third movie is how to do it fucking right. Doggy.
Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote all three movies. They actually wrote, produced and directed the second movie. So. I don't know what sort of credit they do or don't deserve. Greg Shapiro acted as producer for both the first and third movie. I don't know how involved he was, but maybe he makes a difference? Maybe Hurwitz and Schlossberg just don't know how to produce and direct? The ideas of the second movie aren't...wrong...I just don't think they were executed well. Maybe Todd Strauss-Schulson made a big difference? Maybe he made an awesome speech?
What It's Good For:
-laughter. Hell, I saw it with my mom and she laughed a lot too
-entertaining 3D because it's nonsensical and that amuses me
-implausibility creating tension
-a good mixture of situational and observational humor.
-fans of the series
-people who like claymation
-if you don't like implausible plots, you may think this is stupid
-if you don't like swearing, or don't think penises are funny, or that getting a toddler high doesn't deserve a chuckle, you may hate this movie
% Character / % Actor's personality
Neil Patrick Harris: 100/100
-Cho: Star Trek
-Penn: VAN WILDER; The Namesake
-Koteas: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; The Thin Red Line
-Amir: College Humor's Prank Wars
-Trejo: Whore; Anaconda; Con Air; two episodes of "Walker, Texas Ranger" once as Jose Rodriguez, and the other time as Joe Lopez; The Devil's Rejects
-Weed: Fritz the Cat; Don't Be a Menace; Half Baked; Friday; Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back; Super Troopers; Pineapple Express; Cheech & Chong