HOLLYWOOD — The poster for “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” is the best thing about the movie, depicting the brainy potheads in orange prison jumpsuits staring in disbelief from behind a wire-mesh fence.
That one still image captures all the inherent humor of two wily-as-Bugs-Bunny guys who are about to bust out of the U.S. military’s main boarding house for terrorism suspects.
Actually seeing them in motion is mostly an anticlimactic affair as the sequel follows the fitfully funny, fitfully too-stupid-to-live pattern of 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”
That first movie fizzled in its theatrical release but found an audience on DVD, leading to Chapter 2 in the adventures of best buds Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn).
The movie picks up exactly where the first one ended, with the two washing away (and in more disgusting fashion, otherwise expunging) the effects of their successful munchie run for burgers.
Now, they’re off to Amsterdam so Harold can woo his dream girl (Paula Garces), and he and Kumar can openly smoke all the weed they want in the land of legalized marijuana.
Of course, Kumar can’t wait, unveiling a device of his own making that will allow him to circumvent the no-smoking rule on their airplane (the sequence features a clever moment of racial profiling by an elderly passenger when she spots Kumar, along with some amusing confusion between the words “bong” and “bomb”).
Ultra-deranged Homeland Security zealot Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) dispatches Harold and Kumar to Guantanamo, from which they escape, return to the United States and make a beeline for the wedding of Kumar’s old flame (Danneel Harris), whose fiance has White House connections that could clear our heroes.
Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the first movie and move up to directing the sequel from their own screenplay, connect here and there with some funny terrorism-induced paranoia and political gags.
A scene of a Homeland Security interpreter unable to recognize perfect English spoken by Asian-Americans is particularly bright, while it’s impossible not to giggle amid Harold and Kumar’s extended party session with President Bush, though the makeup and demeanor of the actor (James Adomian) playing the president add up to a flat caricature.
Hurwitz and Schlossberg inevitably revive memorable moments from the first movie, including Kumar’s bedroom fantasy with a giant bag of pot and another road trip with former “Doogie Howser, M.D.” star Neil Patrick Harris, who returns as an endlessly randy, doped-up version of himself (stick around through the end-credits for a quick Doogie bonus).
Also returning for a brief bit are David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas as Harold and Kumar’s neighbors.
Despite the bigger, bolder scenario, the new movie generally delivers more of the same, and like its predecessor, too much of it is sadly lame. Dropping Harold and Kumar into such treacherous terrain as a Klan beer blast or a tough black neighborhood in the Deep South sound a lot funnier than they turn out.
Dumb as it is, the sequel maintains and deepens the natural, amiable rapport Cho and Penn developed in the first movie. They’re such lovable goofs that you can’t help wishing their quest for White Castle fast food and their flight from Gitmo could live up to the sort of sharp satire these two bright boys deserve.
“Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” a New Line Cinema release, is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language and drug use. Running time: 102 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.