Kal Penn, a prominent actor in Hollywood with Indian roots, had a career-first over the weekend as his Harold And Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay became his highest grossing film in a lead role. The comedy, which grossed $14.9 million in 2,500 theatres, stood at second spot at the box office in North America, following Baby Mama.
Harold And Kumar feature John Cho and Penn, who are mistaken for terrorists. The film earned more money in three days, than what Penn's critically acclaimed box-office hit The Namesake made, in its entire three month run in North America last year.
The new film is a sequel to 2004's Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, which made about $18 million in North America, with hardly an audience abroad. But it became a cult hit on DVD, prompting the studio New Line to make the sequel.
While most Hollywood films with 9/11 as the backdrop have not succeeded at the box office, Harold And Kumar -- which takes broad dig at US President George W Bush and the post 9/11 paranoia -- is destined to be a medium-size hit. Made for about $12 million, the comedy could become one of the most profitable films of the year so far. It could also have a decent run in a handful of European countries, given its subject.
The film starts with Kumar busted as a terrorist while trying to put together a 'smokeless' bomb in an airplane toilet. His pal, Harold, is innocent. The two are profiled by Homeland Security as representatives of axis of evil. 'North Korea and Al Qaeda working together' and are shipped to Gitmo. Their escape and the subsequent encounters are the comical backbone of the film.
Reviews for the film were decidedly mixed: 'The stoner duo's second film lacks the fresh charm that made their first such an unexpected (if guilty) pleasure,' wrote Hollywood Reporter.
But San Franciso Chronicle gave the film quite a welcome. 'This sequel edges close to Borat in its outrageous political imaginings,' the review declared. 'President Bush is a pothead who laces his marijuana with blow and tells off his father with a series of expletives, and the guards at Guantanamo Bay demand a certain sexual favour from prisoners at dinnertime.'
'To go this far out, you better be sure the material is funny, and it is much of the time,' the review added, though there was the complaint that the potty jokes were too repetitive and gross.
But the new film is certainly not for those who took Guantanamo Bay seriously, especially if you are seeing something like the esteemed Guantanamo documentary Standard Operating Procedure the same week. Otherwise, you may have a reaction similar to that of J Hoberman of Village Voice. 'Escape From Guantanamo Bay is a largely mind-numbing experience,' he wrote.
But the comedy looks like another Hollywood film that is review-proof. It took Hollywood over two years to decide on a sequel to the first Harold And Kumar. But this time, the announcement could come faster. Hollywood may not have to wait for the DVD sale before deciding on a third outing for the Asian dudes.