I have been nervous for this day to come ever since I first heard the news about a Harold & Kumar threequel in the works, and I will tell you why. For starters, I absolutely loved the original 2004 stoner comedy “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” for a number of reasons: aside from the fact that it was crazy, vulgar and hilarious all the way through, the actual characters of Harold and Kumar were a great comedic duo. They were funny, they said funny things, they got into bizarre and strange situations that they (understandably) had no idea how to handle. But above all else, they were two bright and determined potheads who stuck through a night of wild depravity just so they could pig out on sliders and Cokes in the end.
But then came the 2008 sequel, “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” which was not only a miserable failure on a gargantuan level and an affront to all things decent, but it essentially abandoned every single aspect that made the original work as well as it did. Sure, “White Castle” had its share of gross-out gags and low-brow laughs, but it knew the fine line between using blue comedy effectively and just being nauseatingly unpleasant and ugly just for the heck of it. And that dividing line was where the humor in “Guantanamo Bay” started. The script throws one tasteless joke after another, and it might have redeemed itself had any of the jokes been funny. Not a single one works. I laughed only once in a span of two hours, and it was all thanks to the timing and comedic genius of the immortal Neil Patrick Harris. This was the crude, repulsive, flagrantly garish film that I would have expected the first to be, only it was even worse than I could have possibly imagined.
So as you can expect, I was more than a little fearful that sequelitis would continue to sully the good names of this generation’s Cheech & Chong. Yet, I still held on to a tiny bit of hope that it would hoist this franchise out of the muck it got itself into. And O Holy Crap, as if through some sort of Christmas miracle, “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” places the series back on track with some of the silly, stupid fun that made the first one such enjoyable entertainment.
No, it does not quite approach the greatness that “White Castle” served up, and the humor is certainly not for the easily offended. I am pretty sure the jokes are meant to get in the face of just about anybody, from its images of a drug-addicted toddler to the merrily pervasive racial and religious stereotyping. But irreverent or not, I cannot deny that I laughed at a lot of it. I wasn’t always proud of myself for what I laughed at, but one must know what they are getting into with this type of film and that nothing is sacred. My best advice is that if you can’t take the heat, get out of the theater.
A long time has passed since their conflict with Guantanamo and bigoted government officials, and the once inseparable titular characters Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) have gone their separate ways. Harold is now a clean-cut Wall Street trader (complete with angry protestors outside the building) and is married to Maria (Paula Garcés), who is eager to start a family ASAP.
Kumar, on the other hand…well, he’s still living in the same apartment, still hitting the bong on a regular basis, only now he has a new roommate named Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld of the web series “Jake and Amir”). But their paths collide once again on Christmas Eve when Kumar hand-delivers a package addressed to Harold that mistakenly landed at his apartment door (I sense another Christmas miracle).
The set-up for this third adventure I will not fully divulge, as I would sound completely mental trying to verbalize said events. But the point is, thanks to a series of improbable coincidences, Harold has to find the perfect Christmas tree to win the approval of his tattooed, hard-boiled father-in-law, who has held a grudge against all Koreans ever since the murder of his mother. If he is not able to come up with anything before Christmas morning, it may yield far more severe consequences than only a not-so-merry Christmas. Now, as I describe Maria’s father, an older, but also tough and intimidating Hispanic man, do I even have to say the name of the actor? Come on, you KNOW who it’s gotta be.
And so, just like in the other two films, this straightforward mission turns out to be much more problematic than it probably ever should be. It also serves as an excuse for the duo to stumble into all kinds of absurd and madcap subadventures. One has the two being dragged along by Adrian as he makes a sex drive to a teenager’s party. “If anyone asks,” he tells Kumar, “I am Robert Pattinson’s acting coach…and you work for the White House.” In a clever case of breaking the fourth wall, Kumar sarcastically replies, “Like anyone would believe I work for the White House.” For those who read that and feel like you might’ve missed something, please feel free to quickly research what Kal Penn has been up to during the interim period between stoner comedies.
Neil Patrick Harris returns as himself once again in an extravagant Christmas stageshow, just as immune to criticism or fault as he ever was (seriously, nobody ever holds him accountable for his actions!). For those who were always wondering why Doogie Howser himself is portrayed as an aggressive womanizer in the series when he is openly gay in the real world (I always thought it was kind of an ironic in-joke), there is a special nod to you guys. His personal life outside movies and TV finally catches up with the fictionalized version of himself, and nobody could sell it as well as ol’ NPH.
Now then, let us get to the 3D. Sure, I might have preferred it in the typical 2D format, but at least here we have a film that actually knows how to exploit the format for all it’s worth. In an age where this stupid fad is being hopelessly and uselessly tagged on to movies that have NO purpose for it (“Shark Night 3D” and “My Soul To Take” would’ve been torture without it anyway), the filmmakers can at least bring some fun to 3D, poking fun at it while reveling in its novelty. Everything from Christmas trees, hot syrup, ping pong balls, eggs, shards of glass, claymated unmentionables and even pot smoke find their way into the third dimension.
The odds were against it. Sequels tend to be disappointing and Christmas movies mostly suck, with only a few rare exceptions. But for me, “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” is like the “Wayne’s World 2” to “Wayne’s World” in that we are still hanging out with the same juvenile goofballs we loved in the first place, but we also watch them become a little older, a little wiser, and maybe even just a little bit more grown up right before our eyes…well, at least to the extent that the series would ALLOW these characters to grow up. And that enough was able to give a skeptical viewer like me that warm and fuzzy feeling deep inside. Or maybe that’s just the munchies.