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‘Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay’ is stoner comedy of the highest grade, while ‘Counterfeiters’ doesn’t fake it.

click to enlarge HAROLD AND KUMAR AND NEIL: Movie stoner hilarity.
  • HAROLD AND KUMAR AND NEIL: Movie stoner hilarity.

Out of respect for the first “Harold and Kumar” film, which definitely deserves consideration among anyone's top-five-best-comedies-of-the-last-five-years list, I took in the late show of the latest installment — “Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay” — on opening night. I was hoping to commune with the stoners, but aside from a few feverish popcorn diggers, the burnouts blended well. The theater was spotty with dudes without dates and a smattering of Asians. That's probably the core demographic, but I couldn't help wondering, during the previews that now precede the actual previews, where are the youth of Central Arkansas? Why are they not packing the theaters to see a moderately progressive raunch-comedy with copious drug use and a good amount of nudity?

Well, heed the call, friends. As I'm sure you all know, two hours of almost wholesale hilarity is better on the big screen than the small. Like the first chapter of the franchise, “Guantanamo Bay” finds type-A Harold (John Cho) and freewheeling Kumar (Kal Penn) quickly derailed from their trip — in this case, Amsterdam, where Harold hopes to reunite with a new flame and Kumar plans to smoke a lot. But where their first outing, driven by the simple craving for White Castle, explored all the zany, weed-filled rabbit holes writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg could imagine, this round, they mine territory where you don't have to dig too deep to find paranoia.

Early in the film, Kumar gets pulled aside at the airport for what he decries as “ethnic profiling.” When he makes a fuss, a security higher-up lets him pass. Turns out it was all a ruse to sneak a bag of weed and Kumar's newly engineered “smokeless bong” onto the plane. That accomplished, rather than wait 10 hours to reach the Mecca of pot, Kumar decides to fire up in the bathroom. Smoke attracts the attention of fellow passengers, Kumar's device looks menacing, and “bong” sounds a lot like “bomb.” Soon, the ne'er-do-wells are grounded and in the hands of Rob Cordry's Homeland Security bureaucrat, who's convinced he's foiled a terrorist plot between Al-Qaeda and North Korea and ships Harold and Kumar off to Gitmo.

The pair, of course, escape Guantanamo, and then proceed down some more of those zany, weed-filled rabbit holes. There are more hillbilly stereotypes, both mocked and indulged, like the backwoods couple who live cosmopolitan chic, but still keep an inbred monster-child chained up in the basement. There is a bottomless party, thrown by a host who says topless parties have grown passe, though our leads don't feel an Apatowian need to bare all themselves. There is a long hangout session with President Bush after Harold and Kumar crash into his Crawford ranch. Neil Patrick Harris makes another appearance.

Some of these scenes work, some are fairly base, but “Harold and Kumar” succeeds as a comedy almost entirely because of Cho and Penn, who're imminently believable as stoners bucking the system, geeky overachievers struggling in a meritocracy and, most of all, regular dudes who you might recognize among your friends. Here's hoping we get to see them onscreen together again.

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