BEVERLY HILLS, California — Four years ago, our nation was introduced to a dynamic, drug-addled duo named Harold Lee and Kumar Patel . With a mere $18 million at the box office, many assumed that it wasn’t a meeting most of the country cared to attend. Then, the sarcastic stoners hit DVD, and an underground audience rose up from their couches to ask one collective question:
Dude, where’s our sequel?
“There was a moment there when someone was suggesting we make a straight-to-DVD sequel, and at that moment, nobody wanted to do it,” remembered John Cho (Harold), who was famously teased in the original “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” trailer as “that Asian guy from ’American Pie.’ ” “I thought, ’Well, there’s that. That was what they offered, and maybe it’s going away now, so that’s it.’ ”
The original flick had wrapped itself up with an open-ended conclusion that had the guys heading off to Amsterdam to track down Harold’s dream girl, Maria — and eager to explore the country’s relaxed marijuana legislation. But after the Hollywood suits had deemed the franchise dead or even worse, straight-to-video, home viewers realized that this comedy was (to paraphrase their friend Goldstein) like the Holocaust, only the exact opposite.
“With the first one, we had no idea if anybody would find it funny,” remembered Kal Penn (Kumar), similarly immortalized in the original trailer as “that Indian guy from ’Van Wilder.’ ” “It didn’t do well at the box office, then suddenly it takes off on DVD, and people are enjoying the movie.”
After “H & K” ’s DVD release more than doubled its box-office take, Hollywood suddenly wanted a whiff of secondhand smoke. Now, all the filmmakers had to do was write a script, and shoot it cheaply enough to take the hit if its audience again finds itself, um, unmotivated to put down the munchies and drive themselves to a movie theater.
First-time directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg , the original movie’s scribes, came up with “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” in which the two buds take an unexpected detour on their way to Amsterdam.
“We shot [the first movie] for no money, and we are shooting the second one for no money,” Penn said. “But the script is awesome. We love the characters. We are really going into [this again] for the love of it.”
Typically, it’s a bad idea to try to recapture the magic of a comedy hit (see “Caddyshack 2,” “Legally Blonde 2″ and “Evan Almighty” — or better yet, don’t), so our slacker heroes needed to call in some reinforcements.
“Neil Patrick Harris is back ; I have to point that out,” Cho grinned. “He is back in serious fashion in this movie.”
“I don’t know if my reputation precedes me or not,” laughed Harris, who hilariously lampooned himself as a hard-partying, sex-crazed former teen star in the first film and was happy to return for the sequel. “I was like the crazy, go-out guy when I was 18, 19 or 20. I had a fake ID, and I thought that was cool.”
“But once I turned 21, 22, 23, it all seemed less interesting to me,” the actor insisted, cautioning that the movie’s “Neil Patrick Harris” is just a performance by Neil Patrick Harris. “I’m just not a big fan of the super, über-loud clubs, and lots of people that I really don’t care to know. [In real life], I’m a hang-out-at-home, cook-dinner-for-friends kind of guy. So if I do have that reputation [for partying as hard as NPH in the movies], that would be awesome.”
The reunited trio hope the sequel keeps all their reputations intact. “We were just as fearful as you were; we didn’t want to grind out a bad sequel,” Cho said. “In fact, none of us would have done [a sequel] unless we felt that it had the potential to be better than the first one. I think we made a good movie.”
In the years since they made the original, Cho and Penn have monitored their rising cult classic status by the number of people who’ve come up to them looking to party. But, compared to the popularity of such pot-friendly pop culture figures as Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg, they insist they still have a long way to go.
“Me and Kal, not as much as Willie and Snoop; surprisingly not often,” Cho laughed. “What’s up, people?”
“Maybe they’re looking for an offer from me and they’re not getting it,” he added. “If so, I apologize.”
But on the screen, Harold and Kumar’s bizarre, out-of-left-field antics seem likely to continue endearing them to their core audience. In the new flick, they sit down for a surprisingly insightful, high-minded moment with George W. Bush to discuss the War on Drugs.
According to Cho, they’re already brainstorming ideas for another addicting adventure.
“Hopefully,” he added. “People have to go out and buy tickets, really. I mean, people, it’s the same situation as the first one. Someone has to say it makes financial sense to make a third one. Also, we have to come up with a script that would top this, so give us some time. Because this one is a doozie.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.”
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