Stoner comedies have the major built-in advantage of playing to an audience that's herbally inclined to laugh at anything, but that knowledge can breed laziness, because there's little motivation for sharpening the jokes. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle and its equally winning sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, don't seem to have anyone manning the quality-control department: Some gags are inspired in their extreme crudeness and toked-up surrealism, and others are simply lazy and base, targeted at the sniggering 14-year-old boys who snuck into the back row of the theater. Yet the bad stretches in both movies are more easily forgiven and forgotten than they would be in other comedies, because John Cho's Harold and Kal Penn's Kumar make such amiable company. Their shambling, seat-of-the-pants misadventures are written like a pot-addled free-association game, and it's fun to go along for the ride.
Kicking off the morning after their triumphant visit to White Castle, Escape From Guantanamo Bay finds Harold and Kumar gearing up for an impromptu trip to Europe, where Harold hopes to meet up with his new girlfriend. The troublemaking Kumar smuggles some weed on board the plane to Amsterdam—which is a little like smuggling a hooker into a whorehouse—but when his smokeless bong is mistaken for a bomb, the two are apprehended as terrorists and shipped off to Gitmo. The mix-up seems easily resolveable, but an overzealous Homeland Security official (Rob Corddry) sees Harold and Kumar as some sort of North Korean/al-Qaeda alliance and locks them up. They manage to escape to the Deep South, but with Corddry and his team on their trail, clearing their names isn't easy.
Though the detour to Guantanamo Bay allows for some broad, none-too-successful swipes at the War On Terror, the film mostly riffs on cultural clashes much like the first one did, presenting America as not so much a melting pot as a lumpy bouillabaisse. As Harold and Kumar wind through the South, they stumble upon all sorts of redneck stereotypes, but writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg indulge in them and mock them simultaneously, like having backwoods Alabama shack-dwellers live like the Upper East Side elite, while still keeping their one-eyed inbred spawn in the basement. The big payoff, of course, is Neil Patrick Harris reprising his role as "Neil Patrick Harris," former child star turned hard-living, 'shroom-chowing horndog. Any comedy zany enough to include a veiled, left-field reference to Clara's Heart has something going for it.