Stoner comedies on high-per drive
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY: Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. Starring Kal Penn, John Cho, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris and Danneel Harris. New Line, 2008. R. 102 minutes.
SUPER HIGH ME: Directed by Michael Blieden. Based on a joke by Doug Benson. Screen Media, 2008. R. 94 minutes.
|Neil Patrick Harris gets a lift in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay|
Super High Me is a dope (smoking) version of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me: Comedian Doug Benson figures that if people will watch Spurlock ingest MickeyD’s for a solid month, they ought to be willing to watch him smoke his brains out for an equal duration. But first, in order to get the proper effect (or just have a basis for comparison), Benson spends 30 days not smoking any pot. He takes the SAT, gets a physical (from a surprisingly jovial and blunt-spoken doctor) and takes a number of other tests (including one about his psychic abilities) that mostly go to prove that no one’s taking this little escapade too seriously. Rather than an endless parade of stoner jokes, his standup (he appears to perform more nights than not) becomes focused on how much weed Benson isn’t smoking. (He riffs instead, for example, on the possibilities for a mildew remover called mil-don’t.)
Super High Me is mostly an extended gag born from a simple joke. It does manage to squeeze in a few moments of poignant if somewhat muddled commentary about the struggle between Californian dispensary owners and the DEA, which doesn’t recognize California’s medical marijuana laws and cracks down on several dispensaries during the film. There’s a touch of pot history and a few observations from people who really do use it for medicinal purposes, but mostly there’s Benson, cracking wise and inhaling frequently (or not; debate rages on the IMDb boards as to whether Benson actually inhales much on film) until the experiment rambles to a finish, ending when the month’s up without much of a conclusion beyond, well, hey, dude! No harm done! Keep smokin’!
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (let’s just call it HK2), on the other hand, winds up fairly tidily after a rambling, shambling, ridiculous jaunt across what turns out to be pretty foreign territory for its Jersey-born heroes: the South. Picking up promptly after the end of 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, in which worried overachiever Harold Lee (John Cho) and smart, angsty slacker Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) dealt with some serious munchies, HK2 finds the pair on their way to Amsterdam to find the girl Harold’s crushing on. But it’s a long flight. A guy might need a diversion on such a flight.
Escape from Gitmo — where an over-zealous and under-intelligent government hardass throws the pair after Kumar’s bong is mistaken for something else that sounds rather like the word bong — is just the beginning. Writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg paint in broad stripes as the film takes obvious but often still amusing turns, crashing from one pit stop to the next as the guys stay ahead of Homeland Security. Here and there, it offers guffaw-inducing moments of sheer absurdity and sly humor regarding stereotypes and the state of the nation — or simply the snortingly funny vision of sex- and ‘shroom-crazed Neil Patrick Harris astride a unicorn (Patrick Harris’ wacky character role subtly underscores the point that Harold and Kumar — the Korean-American and Indian-American — are for once the leads, not the lead’s quirky buddies). What you won’t find, though, is a female role that’s not that of a girlfriend or half-naked accessory to a joke, but perhaps it would be just too much to ask for the film to add sexist nonsense to the list of things it sends up, which includes stereotypes about African-Americans, Jews and poor farmers; debauched former child stars; Dubya; and anti-intellectualism (occasionally, the send-ups fall short, as with most of the prison sequence). Our affable, endearing heroes have got quite a bit on their plates. Still, as A.O. Scott pointed out in The New York Times, the film’s “bottomless party” would have benefited from Penn and Cho having the (visible) balls Jason Segel did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Super High Me opens Friday, May 2, at the Bijou. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.