A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Posted on December 25, 2013

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Way back in 2004, a little comedy came out called Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It was about two stressed-out twenty-somethings who got high and decided to go to White Castle. They had numerous bizarre and hilarious encounters with college students, tow-truck drivers, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Costing only $9 million dollars to make (estimated), Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle earned over $100 million dollars over the next two months.

So, of course, there are two sequels.

Synopsis

Six years have passed since Harold and Kumar escaped from Guantanamo Bay (from the second film, in 2008). Harold (John Cho) has married Maria (Paula Garces), and hasn’t seen Kumar (Kal Penn) in a while. Her family is coming over for Christmas, and her father (Danny Trejo) is a huge fan of Christmas. Harold desperately wants to impress him.

Meanwhile, Kumar flunked a drug test and got kicked out of medical school. Vanessa (Daneel Ackles) dumped him when he got kicked out, but has returned to tell him that she is pregnant.

Kumar heads over to Harold’s house to drop off a package delivered to their old apartment. When they accidentally burn down the Christmas tree that Maria’s dad raised from a seed, they set out on an insane race to get a duplicate tree on Christmas Eve, before Maria and her family return from Midnight Mass.

Short Version

Not as good as the first, but way better than the second.

Long Version

Obviously, I spend a lot of time reviewing mass-market films. I am not a highbrow, intellectual, movie reviewer. You may not have known it, but it’s unlikely that you’re surprised when I confess a weakness for dumb stoner comedies.

The first movie in the series was not dumb. It used the structure of dumb stoner comedies to explore issues of race in America. It made a lot of dumb jokes, but most of them paid off and the pacing was quick.

The second movie might deserve a second viewing, but I found that it started off slowly and the premise was a little too over-the-top. Then again, as a white US Army veteran, I’ve never smuggled a bong onto an international flight and been mistaken for a terrorist.

And that, I think, is a common problem with sequels. No, not the bong smuggling part.

Rather, the first movie gives us characters. Harold is a junior guy at his investment firm who gets passed over for opportunities because he’s not part of the white boy club. Even though he works harder and does better than everyone else, he’s marginalized because of his ethnicity.

Kumar is under pressure to live up to the standards of his father, an immigrant from India. He also gets slapped in the face with stereotypes of Indian medical professionals as he tries to get into med school.

The vast majority of us are outside the exclusive club of privilege. That’s why it’s called “exclusive” and “privileged”. If everyone were in it, it wouldn’t be special. So regardless of ethnicity, we get what Harold is going through.

Similarly, we all deal with parental expectations. Every parent is overbearing at least occasionally. So we understand what Kumar is going through.

Yes, they are stupid while they are stoned. Yes, Kumar is a bit too much of a thrill-seeker for his own good. But the rest of the time, they are a couple of sharp guys who would get along fine if people would just accept them as they are. You know, instead of behaving like racist asshats.

The second movie undermined all that hard work. Kumar was a constantly stoned idiot. Harold was increasingly shrill, and more a voice of panic than a voice of reason. The only character who showed any development was Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris, who was just more of a debauched swinger than he was in the first movie.

So what about the third movie?

I liked that both Harold and Kumar had grown and moved on. I liked that there were reasons for Harold to quit smoking, and Kumar to seek escape through a bong. I liked that the secret to overcoming their obstacles was rediscovering their friendship.

That said, the racial message from the first movie was lost. Of course the New York gangsters are Russian. Of course one of the racial epithets hurled at Harold is “Sulu” (John Cho plays Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek movies). Of course there’s a joke about how someone in the extended Perez family isn’t “exactly” out on parole. Of course no one would believe Kumar works at the White House (Kal Penn is an Associate Director in the Obama administration).

There’s one moment at a tree farm operated by two African-Americans that approaches the level of insight and satire that we saw in the first movie. It’s not enough. By the third movie, Harold and Kumar have bought into the racist paradigm the first movie mocked so effectively.

Conclusion

Put the kids to bed, break out the booze, and enjoy a dumb stoner comedy. Happy holidays!

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Posted in: Movies