Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle didn't exactly do gangbusters at the box office when it opened in July 2004. The comedy about stoner pals with major munchies searching for tiny hamburgers in the middle of the night made about $5.5 million its first weekend on the way to an $18.2 million gross domestically.
But the film's writers, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, always had faith that it would find a following eventually through DVD rentals and cable-TV viewings.
And now, their faith has been rewarded.
The sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay, premiered at the South by Southwest film festival over the weekend to a raucous, packed house.
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This time, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are suspected of being terrorists after Kumar sneaks a high-tech bong onto a flight to Amsterdam, which everyone onboard thinks is a bomb. The two get sent to Guantánamo but manage to break free, ending up in Miami and Texas and -- of course -- running into Neil Patrick Harris playing a mushroom-eating, hooker-loving, unicorn-riding version of himself.
''When we were in college we liked cult movies like Dazed and Confused and Office Space and The Big Lebowski, and these were movies that weren't huge box-office smashes but sort of found an audience on DVD the year or two after the movie came out,'' Schlossberg, 29, told The Associated Press. ``We felt with Harold and Kumar, when it came out in theaters in 2004, that if people saw the box office, it wasn't going to end there.''
Cho, who has also appeared in the American Pie movies and plays Sulu in next summer's Star Trek, said he's sensed a real clamor for more among the fans who have given the first Harold & Kumar a cult following -- and that can be a little overwhelming.
''I've wanted to satiate them, really. Being unable to has been frustrating. I'm glad it's coming out now -- I just hope people like it as much as they did [at the premiere],'' he said. ``People are insanely enthusiastic. People forget that I don't know them, though they may know me, so they will yell at really piercing volumes at times -- like, three feet from me and my wife -- and it's scary. But it's great, and it's loving.''
Although White Castle was only their first produced script, Hurwitz and Schlossberg always knew they wanted to do a sequel, and they knew they wanted it to pick up immediately where the first one left off as their favorite '80s sequels always did. Initially, they'd planned to have the pals travel to Amsterdam to find Harold's crush, Maria, but they didn't want a movie where the two just traipsed around Europe the whole time.
''Then we started thinking about Kumar getting into trouble on the airplane, some racial profiling, Homeland Security getting involved, then Guantánamo Bay, and suddenly all these ideas just come out,'' Schlossberg said. ``It wasn't a conscious effort to make something more political. It was really just: `OK, how can we amp it up a notch?'
``And the first movie, our story was so simple. I mean, there were no stakes whatsoever. So in this movie, for us the joke was, let's give almost the exact opposite -- the highest stakes of all time. Let's have literally Homeland Security chasing after them, it's a national security threat, their lives are at stake, their freedom is at stake.''