Well, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay isn’t an accomplished film by any aesthetic standards, but then nobody goes to see a Harold & Kumar film for beautiful shot compositions. (Re-screen the sublime Napoleon Dynamite for that kind of ambition.) The sequel’s slicker than the first one, but again, it doesn’t really matter. Episodic rambling, meat-cleaver editing, terrible special effects, they’re all part of the experience of stoner comedies that work best when the audience is also stoned. There are going to be parts that are funny—like the encounters with Neil Patrick Harris playing a deranged druggy horndog version of “Neil Patrick Harris”—and parts that are filler. The gross-out parts are very gross, and keep getting grosser as the “creative team” tries to top itself. But it isn’t that.
No, I think it’s the main female characters and the actresses playing them that ruin it for me. The other curse of Eve, I swear, is the way we’re represented in movies. Every other character in the H & K films gets thrown into the mix in a ruthless equalizing process revealing all human flaws: skin pustules, weak chins, big jaws, crossed eyes, weird tics, bizarre speech patterns, disgusting personal habits—everybody’s highly individualized and appalling. H & K movies are Equal Opportunity Offenders. But the lead women are those terribly bland pretty ones Hollywood mass-produces, tottering around in heels. Even Kumar’s true love Vanessa (Danneel Harris) who’s shown in flashback turning him on to marijuana and sex, is a standard issue starlet. Her individuality is signaled by just slightly narrower eyes than the usual Barbie, and maybe a voice pitched a bit lower. That’s it. In long shots you can’t tell her apart from Harold’s flame, Maria.
And I know, I know, the target audience for these films is teenage guys, and therefore there have to be pretty starlets tottering around in heels. But it’s discouraging. In a movie franchise that’s supposedly kicking over old biases by representing pretty much all of humanity as simultaneously repulsive and endearing, there shouldn’t be this squeamishness about women. And don’t bother mentioning the coed flatulence contest in White Castle, because I realize there are plenty of perfectly nauseating portrayals of women in minor roles. There’s a bordello scene in Guantanamo Bay featuring 60-double-D freak Tits Hemmingway (Echo Valley) that’s enough to give one nightmares.
My main objection boils down to this: if the filmmakers set up an anything-goes policy of outraging all notions of human dignity, they’re obligated to live up to it without respecting age, race, creed, class, nationality—or gender. There can’t be any prissy exceptionalism. There are RULES, Dude.
Take the bottomless nude scene, which is sure to be the topic of much popular discussion. In their journey from Cuba to Texas to try to clear themselves of charges of terrorism, Harold and Kumar show up at a Miami mansion where their old friend Raza (Amir Talai) is hosting a lively soiree with a naked-from-the-waist-down rule that’s strictly enforced. The awed heroes walk among scores of interchangeably good-looking women all standing around, holding model-poses, wearing tops and heels and nothing else. Every one of them is artfully pruned and manicured and fake-tanned and blemish-free and ready for their close-ups. Then you get to the male nudity at last. The gnome-like host rises out of the Jacuzzi sporting such a grotesque black forest of pubic hair it almost serves as a loincloth. Then, when Harold and Kumar finally drop their trousers, the film cuts primly to an above-the-waist shot. This whole sequence, I need hardly say, is a tragic cop-out.
However, it may be that screenwriter Diablo Cody is already on the case. She answered Judd Apatow’s boy-centric vision, Superbad, with girl-centric Juno. Possibly her script for the upcoming comedy-horror film Jennifer’s Body will turn out to be a worthy rebuttal to the Harold & Kumar franchise.