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Notes from the back row

Racial Stereotypes up in smoke

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Movie comedy is in a sad state these days. Hollywood is churning out romance/comedy pictures (usually starring Ben Stiller) and banking on bathroom jokes or pain inflicted on small animals to get their laughs. Perhaps this is why I’m so excited about Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle , opening this week at the Village 8. Finally, a stoner movie with fresh laughs and, more importantly, some balls. With a long, uninteresting-sounding title combined with two lesser-known Asian stars (Korean John Cho and Indian Kal Penn) one could easily decide to skip this one. But guess what? These two cats are funnier than a black guy in a fat suit (Penn stole the show in Van Wilder and Cho was the only decent thing about crap-fest heist movie The Perfect Score.)

The plot goes like this. Harold is shy and a pushover. He works at a bank where his co-workers push him around, giving him extra work because "he’s Chinese, he likes crunching numbers." Kumar is an A-student expected to go to medical school, but he’s not into it. Mainly he’s into getting high and getting laid. After lighting up and getting the munchies one Friday night, the two friends decide to embark on a mission to find weed and food, namely White Castle hamburgers, which looked so good in the commercial.

A wild stoner trip ensues, with exaggerated stereotypes and random mishaps at almost every turn. Hindrances include stoned wild animals, breasts, nerds and a doped up, sex-crazed Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) playing himself, kind of. Ironically relying on the oldest buddy-combo stereotype in the book, (you know the wild and crazy guy who gets his timid, conservative friend into all kinds of trouble and they both come out the other end better people), director Danny Leiner ( Dude, Where’s my Car?) undercuts and jokes about the fact that perceptions of people are based on racial stereotypes. The cool thing is that this film is weed comedy on one level and on another it’s a close look at the daily racist bullshit and ethnic expectations minority groups have to deal with in present day society.

Harold and Kumar, despite their race, are just like you and me – they want to get high, they want to get laid, and they want to eat some junk food. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is a full meal of movie and these underlying racial messages are what take it to the next level. Otherwise it’d just be another funny stoner comedy that eventually even people who still have their memories would quickly forget.

But who could forget the 1962 masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate ? Or better yet, who’s even seen it? (Not me.) Well it doesn’t matter because what’s old is new in Hollywood and they’ve remade it with an all-star, Oscar-winning cast.

Set in present day, the new Manchurian Candidate stars Denzel Washington as a Desert Storm vet who realizes that his memories of war hero Raymond Shaw, who apparently saved his platoon in the desert and now is running for Vice President, might be fake. In fact, after talking to an old platoon mate, he believes the entire platoon might have been brainwashed. Shaw’s mother, played by Meryl Streep, is a piranha of a woman who won’t let anything tarnish her sons run at the big house.

Part Jacobs Ladder , part Fahrenheit 9/11 Jonathan Demme’s updated film has enough suspenseful paranoia to make you squirm and the concept of a manufactured presidential candidate working with the media in times of terrorist activity hits so close to home it’ll make you squirm even more. If you’re not into bringing your bong to the theatre, The Manchurian Candidate is the movie to see this week.

Also creepy and tense is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village . Starring Joaquin Phoenix (who shares with Shyamalan the award for Hardest Name To Spell In All Of Show Business) The Village tells of a small, close-knit 19 th century town that lives with the frightening knowledge that strange creatures live in the woods surrounding them. Not a huge fan of Shyamalan ( Sixth Sense was good, Signs was most definitely not) I find him to be a bit formulaic with his movies – A precious child, a small wholesome town in a spiritual panic, and, of course, a twist at the end. Shyamalan is more of a craftsman than a true artist, but his craft is creepy, moody thrillers and he’ll only get better with time. In any case, The Village , while not true art like Harold and Kumar , is still a decent way to get rid of two hours if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Village 8 – Opening this week: Harold and Kumar Got to White Castle; The Manchurian Candidate. Also showing: Cinderella Story; Catwoman; Anchorman; Spiderman 2; Shrek 2; Farenheit 911; I, Robot; Bourne Supremacy.

Rainbow Theatre – King Arthur

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