Monday, March 10, 2008

Ridicule on the Megaton Scale

We all have guilty pleasures, and there is no need to waste precious cognitive ergs over rationalizing them to death. Since many of us are likely to fall back on quotes from The Wire this week, I have one that reflects my own indulgence in guilty pleasures: "It is what it is." So "it is" that I feel a need to come clean over a movie that I did not watch until it showed up on cable, which proved to be a guilty pleasure beyond my wildest expectations, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. I suppose it had to do with the fact that the effort was so modest and so outrageous at the same time that I was easily hooked; but, as I say, this is not a matter for analysis.

However, it is a good example of just how effective ridicule can be when properly conceived and delivered; and, if we are living in times when ridicule is more likely to be effective than outrage in mobilizing public opinion, then this counts for something. Variety critic Joe Leydon appears to appreciate this precept in his approach to writing an "advance" (because the film is not scheduled for release until April 25) review of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Since Variety is more interested in the business side of the picture, Leydon makes it clear from the beginning that, while Harold and Kumar have not changed very much from their first appearance, the plot has taken a major departure from searching for the best burger joint in New Jersey:

Whether the pic can attract newcomers to the franchise --and score breakthrough success during its theatrical run -- depends on the willingness of the masses to accept a sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll comedy so jeeringly critical of post-9/11 paranoia and so openly contemptuous of authoritarian excesses by U.S. government agencies charged with waging the war on terror.

In other words this film may be the ultimate test of whether or not the culture of fear induced by the current institutionalization of "homeland security" can withstand a megaton-level delivery of ridicule that pushes any conceivable envelope of good taste. Thus, whatever his concerns with business performance may be, Leydon seems to have caught on to the "mission of subtext" that sustains this film in his final remarks:

Here and there, however, the madcap zaniness and frat-house boisterousness are laced with something not unlike righteous rage about racial profiling, extraordinary rendition and government-authorized oppression. Auds will be left feeling that if characters as harmless as Harold and Kumar (engagingly replayed by Cho and Penn) can wind up unfairly imprisoned, even in the context of a broad comedy, something is terribly wrong with the system.

In its own wacky way, "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" is one of the ballsiest comedies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. No kidding.

"No kidding," indeed. What our government is doing in Guantanamo Bay is about as far from a laughing matter as one can ever hope to get. However, if it takes laughter to force us to confront this hard truth and talk about it, then it may take Harold and Kumar to teach us the true lessons of patriotism.

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