By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 12, 2011)
I’ve decided not to bury the lead in my review of A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3-D. So let’s get all of this out of the way first, shall we? Stereotypes about Asians, Ukrainians, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews and the GLBT community abound. Santa Claus gets shot in the face. A baby ingests pot, coke and Ecstasy. Marijuana is celebrated for its recreational attributes. In a twisted homage to A Christmas Story, someone’s penis is stuck to frozen tree bark. And yet, there’s something so…good-natured about it all. And, I enjoyed the most belly laughs that I have had at a film so far this year. Sue me.
Back in 2004, a modestly budgeted stoner comedy, sporting a sophomoric title and starring two young unknowns, became an unexpected cult hit. Perhaps arguably, the most surprising thing about Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was that, sandwiched somewhere between the bong hits and assorted scatological references was an undercurrent of sharp socio-political commentary about racial stereotyping in America (for the uninitiated, Harold and Kumar are played by a Korean-American and Indian-American actor, respectively).
The film’s co-creators, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, officially turned their baked heroes into a sort of Cheech and Chong franchise for Gen Y with the 2008 sequel, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (my review). Like its predecessor, it was crass and vulgar, yet still riotously funny (and oddly endearing, in a South Park kind of way). So, has the magic been recaptured in this latest installment?
I suppose that would depend on a little game of word association. If I say “Magic!”, and your immediate rejoinder is “Mushrooms!”, then I’d say you’ll probably enjoy the ride. The rest of you are strongly cautioned. For those in the latter group, I probably at least owe you a brief synopsis; the former already know that it’s not so much about the plot, as it is about the pot.
In the six years since their last misadventure, Harold (John Cho) has not only stepped away from the bong, but veered in the direction of responsible adulthood. He’s happily married, with a house in the ‘burbs and a Wall Street gig. In the meantime, Kumar (Kal Penn, who resigned from his White House position as Associate Director of Public Engagement to work on this film) has been on an opposite trajectory. He’s dropped out of med school, his girlfriend has left him, and he’s self-medicating with ganja (it gets funnier…seriously).
Kumar shows up on Harold’s doorstep Christmas week, and to make a short story even shorter, comic mayhem ensues. The duo (who have drifted apart) are reunited by necessity, scrambling to find a replacement before Harold’s father-in-law (a funny-scary Danny Trejo) discovers that his prized, personally-cultivated Christmas tree has gone up in flames (don’t ask). And yes, Neil Patrick Harris is back again for his third, erm, outing.
Hurwitz and Schlossberg co-wrote, but this time they’ve turned the helming chores over to Todd Strauss Schulson. This is the feature film debut for Schulson, who previously directed music videos and a handful of TV movies. I hope I’m not damning him with faint praise by saying that he has rendered the most visually creative Harold and Kumar entry yet, particularly with the clever use of 3-D. In fact, I think he has used it much more effectively here than Cameron did in Avatar. Go ahead…ask (“Are you high?!”). Maybe.