Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was, if you were willing to scrape through the bong residue, about how pop culture has eaten away at the American Dream. The star witness: Mr. Neil Patrick Harris, aka “Doogie Howser, M.D.” Kumar, a second generation Indian whose father wants him to go to med school, is too immersed in the MTV culture to aspire to Doogie Howser—he wants to be Neil Patrick Harris, cruising around drunk, picking up strippers. Harold and Kumar’s America (New Jersey, mostly) is racist and paranoid—Princeton’s Asian students who worship Harold’s entry-level bean counter job, boil-faced Christians with weird sex lives, Anthony Anderson threatening to burn down his burger shack. Even for all its hit-or-miss gags, the movie works because it has a clear idea of what it wants to say about America.
Thus it is for Guantanamo Bay. HKEfGB picks up in the White Castle parking lot, where our heroes decide to follow Harold’s crush to Amsterdam. The boys pack, during which we see Kumar spooge onto his face, then smash cut to a suitcase framed by the American flag. This is, pretty much, what the movie thinks of “Homeland Security.” The boys head to the airport, where Kumar takes offense to a light-skinned black man telling him he needs further searching: “This is America, man! As long as I have my freedom of speech, I won’t get shoved around!” He does, of course, because that’s what police state racial profiling is designed to do.
The obvious joke is that Harold and Kumar—who as thoroughly “American” as any twenty-somethings could be—are called terrorists by middle class white people on an airplane and get thrown in Guantanamo Bay. But, the movie has something more subtle on its mind. After they get thrown in the brig (Guantanamo Bay is so homoerotic that the Abu Ghraib photos seem like normal prison procedure), Kumar goes off on some real terrorists, who actually sound a lot like Kumar in his anti-government tirades. We see the point: Kumar isn’t some beacon of freedom; he’s just some pseudo-libertarian asshole with a responsibility problem.
It goes further. Kumar can be as pissed as he wants about being racially profiled, but we all profile in certain ways. Harold and Kumar catch an immigrant raft to America, as if they’re being introduced to the real America, not the dreamscape America of their bong-smoke existence. In this version of the American South, Deliverance-inspired hunters have metrosexual interior design, a basketball street party in Birmingham has a Tiny Lister-looking dentist, and the Klan thinks they’re Mexicans. H and K are always changing outfits to make their escapes—their disguises mask their own racism.
The joke is that each of these caricatures, in the end, turn out to be true. The yuppie rednecks are inbreeders, etc. If you’re really, really high, you might think that Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay suggests that we are only truly free when we transcend our own racial identities to become truly individual. That might be a way of making sense of Neil Patrick Harris scarfing a bag of mushrooms and riding a unicorn. Or, the fact that NPH, an openly gay actor, plays himself in the movie as a whore aficionado and frequent strip clubber. As Kumar answers his college girlfriend, “What are you, like Doogie Howser?” “Yeah, he’s totally my hero! I want to be just like him!”
The control variable is Rob Corddry, the over zealous Homeland Security officer who actually is an ignorant racist. Corddry brings a hilarious zeal to the role—he is so “f’n stoked!” to bust terrorists that he thinks North Korea and al-Qaeda are working through Harold and Kumar. He induces cooperation by showing a picture: “You see this cut little white girl? Do you want her to be raped and murdered? Do you want to rape America?” He literally wipes his ass with the Fifth Amendment. He compares the War on Terror to Starship Troopers. He rocks out to “Danger Zone.” He’s the embodiment of why the Rumsfeldian tough-guy approach to fighting terror doesn’t work. Still, Corddry is the only character in the film who doesn’t get some sympathy. In President Bush is exactly what we think he is: A son rebelling against his dad. Just like Kumar.