I've had a few conversations lately about how I've been fortunate not to have experienced direct racism much growing up, at least not of the "Hey, Jackie Chan Ching Chong!" type. A week ago, I experienced it for the first time in a while, late night in front of Denny's in Santa Clara: A drunk white couple in their 20s walked by me and said, "Yo, Harold! Where's Kumar?" I kind of had this, "Um, is that it? Is that the whole joke?" reaction. I didn't actually say that, of course, non-confrontational Asian that I am. :P
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay often felt a little like that racist comment. For instance, they had an unsympathetic character talk in mock Korean, "Aaa waaa looo zaaa moo taaa," that sort of thing. I was like, okay, your point is that racist jokes like this are lame, so why are you spending so much screen time on this racist joke, without any real follow-up? Breaking a taboo isn't inherently funny; you have to do something more with it. In the original, when Kumar's dad unwittingly said lewd things because of his Indian accent, it was funny not just because he had an accent, but because he was Kumar's dad, and so the comment was embarassing to Kumar. Layers.
When the original was released, I compared it favorably to that darling of Asian-American cinema, Better Luck Tomorrow. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle didn't treat Asian-Americans as a totally separate group, but as Americans who also have Asian in them. It basically said that Asian-Americans don't have to ignore their race, but they don't have to let it define them, either. The sequel ruined that by making race the primary topic.
Despite all this, though, I still found myself enjoying the movie, and it's only because of the fundamental likability of the two main characters. That's why I'm giving it two slices of toast instead of one and a half or less. Occasionally, the movie did focused on personality traits of the characters that rang true, like the math joke, but those moments were few and far between. I think this sequel was a misstep, but I think there could still be life in these characters. I would look forward to seeing Harold and Kumar back in action if they came up with more subtle and nuanced writing again.