John Cho, Kal Penn, ...
Credit: Jaimie Trueblood

Considering the legacy of Hollywood’s genially blitzed stoner-slacker doofus-buddy teams (Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth, the sweet idiots of Dude, Where’s My Car?), it’s no exaggeration to say that Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), with their big hormonal appetites and even bigger brains, are the thinking man’s version of disreputable youth hedonists. They represent the smartening up of dumbing down. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a most excellent adventure in which the two wanted little more than to chow down on a mess of midnight sliders, only to discover that their ethnicity kept getting in the way. The message — and, more important, the joke — was that no one they met could see that these two were as homegrown as American pie.

In Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, a fitfully funny if somewhat less excellent sequel, Kumar tries to light up a homemade bong in an airplane lavatory — but the device gets mistaken for a bomb, which results in the two getting tossed into a grimy cell in Guantanamo. They escape quickly enough (do you get the feeling this movie is a bit less plausible than the first?), and once they’re on the road, trying to outrun the authorities, it’s not Harold and Kumar who keep getting misjudged by their appearance. It’s everyone else — the redneck hunter who lives in a shack that’s really a sleek yuppie lair; the scary-looking black man who is actually a mild orthodontist, and whom the chief government terrorist hunter tries to make talk by ”tempting” him with a can of grape soda; our heroes’ parents, grilled by the authorities as if they had just stepped through the gates of Ellis Island. Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the screenplay for the first film, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay milks the absurdity of prejudice in so many different ways that it threatens, at moments, to wilt into a didactic liberal fable. It’s a mesh of the funny and the draggy, though the comedy is goosed along by little volts of shock and edge: a ”bottomless” party at which people, quite graphically, wear tops and nothing else; the appearance of an even more riotously-self-loathing-than-before Neil Patrick Harris; an encounter with a daddy-fearin’, dope-smokin’ Dubya who seems, in his total aspect, at least faintly, halfway…plausible.

Harold and Kumar, fortunately, never lose their verbally relentless way of delivering raunch as pure common sense. Kal Penn, who knows just how to bounce his quick, affectless delivery off his mischievous features, never reduces Kumar to shtick — he plays him as a fully thought-out character — and John Cho gives Harold’s constant exasperation vigor and snap. At the same time, the movie reveals both of them to be not-so-secret romantics: When Kumar recites a love poem, which turns out to be a science nerd’s metaphorical plaint about the loneliness of the square root of 3, it’s a real Hugh Grant moment. From the look of things, it won’t be long before these two have to escape from adulthood. B-