Never underestimate the public’s appreciation of a good penis joke. To that end, sometimes once isn’t enough for smaller films that make big bucks by aiming low and getting high marks because of it (Man, would my high school English teacher ever appreciate that sentence.). Today, as we rev up for our next episode of the FILMS OF 1985 podcast, we take a look at two such films that tried to recapture lightning in a bottle. One of them tried to repeat the first film and failed while the other broadened its horizons and succeeded, even if not everyone agrees with that assessment.
DAY 14: JANUARY 16. 2013
HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (2008) – first viewing – This film picks up exactly where HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE left off, with the stoner duo about to go to Amsterdam. When overzealous and fear-addled Americans mistake them for terrorists, they are sent to Guantanamo Bay, where they think the Geneva Convention is a folk rock band. The two escape from Gitmo pretty easily and are pursued by a bumbling Homeland Security agent (Rob Cordry – HOT TUB TIME MACHINE).
I have no idea what went wrong here. The original HAROLD AND KUMAR was a decent movie, even if I didn’t love it quite as much of some of its most ardent followers. Recently, I checked out the third installment, A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS and was pleasantly surprised how fresh everything was. I was inspired to check this second installment out and that’s when my expectations were sent crashing back down to Earth.
Everything that went right in the first film goes wrong here. The jokes are repeated from the first film. There is scarcely a single laugh to be had in this one and they drag some pretty talented people down with them.
This should have been a slam dunk. The first one worked, and this one had the added appeal of lampooning the paranoia and overreach that surrounded the Bush administration – something ripe for satire. But this one is such a mess, Kal Penn had to work for the White House until he promised to make a better movie. ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY (1983) – first viewing – The title of this one is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, it picks up the day after the events at the end of PORKY’S. Pee Wee (Dan Monahan) is a virgin no more and is now actually interested in starting a relationship with Wendy (Kaki Miller). It starts out pretty standard, with Pee Wee making some ill-advised boasts about his large Rolodex of women and his buddies plotting to put him in his place.
But then we venture beyond this first day and tackle some bigger issues from 1950s Americana. Angel Beach High is putting on a play featuring assorted works of William Shakespeare. But when a fundamentalist church rolls in and threatens to shut them down, the boys feel it’s time to get revenge on this band of hypocrites. When their targets expand to crooked politicians and the Ku Klux Klan (who object to a Seminole being cast as Romeo), it leads to an elaborate three-tiered scheme to knock down the hypocrisy, cruelty and strict rules of the powers that be.
I’m a big fan of the original PORKY’S, a film which has a reputation for its raunchiness. Back in the early 1980s, it was considered indecent for a major studio to market a teen sex comedy like that. But unlike other films from the era, it had a head on its shoulders too. There were personal scenes of strong character development, such as when one of the boys dealt with his violent and overbearing alcoholic father. It dealt with social issues too, such as the anti-Semitism experienced by another one of the boys.
This sequel has a lousy reputation. It may be because the raunchiness of the first film takes a back seat to bigger comedic targets. This is a film that instead deals with issues of censorship, superstition and racism in American society, and the long storied history of their coziness in our political system. But that’s why I actually like this one at least as much as the original. The chemistry between the protagonists is fantastic. I love what they did with the characters of Pee Wee and Wendy. There is a wonderful scene early on when they realize they’re interested in one another. Wendy expresses the way she got her unfortunate reputation and it becomes clear that sometimes talk is just talk. As someone who has personally dealt with censorship from fundamentalist imbeciles and hypocrites, I loved this storyline. I also appreciated that they point out the groups that continue to push these agendas were the same ones that cozied up to the McCarthy goons or the Ku Klux Klan in decades past, when it was convenient.
This film is funny and enjoyable. Don’t expect more Lassie or Cherry Forever, but expect a comedy that focuses it’s rambunctious wit at a target bigger than the bedroom. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 37
My soundtrack for January 16, 2013: “Early this morning, when you knocked upon my door. Early this morning, when you knocked upon my door. I said, ‘Hello, Satan, I believe it’s time to go.”