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Harold & Kumar find themselves jettisoned to Guantanamo, but they still can't escape NPH.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

When Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle debuted in July 2004 to the modest tune of a $5 million weekend, co-stars John Cho and Kal Penn were relative unknowns, billed in the film’s commercials only as “that Asian guy from American Pie” and “that Indian guy from Van Wilder.” If they’re not quite household names today, they can take solace in that movie’s massive success on video, which eventually prompted New Line Cinema to demand a sequel.

At last, it has arrived – just not in the form most fans expected. While rumors had swirled for the past four years that Harold, a hard-working investment banker, and his brilliant but unmotivated med-student roommate Kumar would seek herbal (and possibly sexual) enlightenment in Amsterdam, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay finds them thrust into the thick of the war on terror.

So why the change?

“Originally, the script for the first movie ended by saying ‘To be continued in Amsterdam,’ and people in the business said ‘Don’t do this, it’s poor form. It’s arrogant,’” recalls screenwriter Jon Hurwitz, 30. “We considered it an homage to Back to the Future, and we figured creative people want their characters to live on. It wasn’t coming from a negative place.

“But because of that lag time between movies, while the studio was contemplating a theatrical or straight-to-DVD sequel – we adamantly demanded the former – that idea of two guys going to Europe began to feel dated. We still took them on their natural path to the airport, where Kal Penn can tell you he’s been patted down many, many times. So there’s a little racial profiling going on, and the guys end up in Guantanamo Bay.”

That kind of not-so-subtle political commentary – mixed, of course, with plenty of scatological humor and cringe-worthy displays of naked genitalia – is what the initiated have come to expect from the misadventures of their favorite stoners.

“I think the major political statement of the film is just that – taking a fart-joke approach to something as relevant as Guantanamo Bay,” says Cho, 35, who was recently tabbed to play Mr. Sulu in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. “And the raunchiness isn’t creepy or mean-spirited, because Harold and Kumar are so good-natured. Besides, there’s something silly about the idea of offensive nudity in an R-rated film when I can get porn on my iPhone in two minutes. And I do, all the time.”

“It’s like South Park. Those guys have political messages, but they never really take a major stance, they just make fun of everybody,” adds Hurwitz. “That’s what we do, but the movie has all the nudity and all the toilet humor you’d expect. And if you don’t care about politics at all – I certainly don’t – it still works.”

For those who do care, the latest Harold & Kumar will feature at least one memorable cameo, or so we are told. While the first installment boasted Neil Patrick Harris playing himself as a crude, drug-addled lothario – and yes, he’s back for more – Guantanamo is said to provide an even more surprising guest appearance.

“We’ve got a really terrific actor playing George W. Bush,” says co-writer Hayden Schlossberg, 30. “Actually, it’s him. We paid him in blow, and he did all of it. You wouldn’t think he’d be doing that at his age, but he’s quite a character. So we made him the star of our next movie, George and Eddie Furlong Go Into Hiding. It may be set in Amsterdam, but you never know.”

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