Originally Posted November 5th, 2011
Since their smoke-filled entrance in 2004, the “Harold and Kumar” films have been easy to like, something that can’t be said for most comedies that take aim at social norms and political correctness the way this franchise has. Despite all the insane stoner antics and gleefully racy jokes, the relatable friendship between Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) provided a solid emotional core for the mayhem to build off of, and the absolute necessity of its stars has kept the brand largely undiluted by DVD prequels and spinoffs. So it’s only fitting that their latest adventure sets its sights on the warmest and cheesiest of genres, the Christmas movie, pulling out all the stops in a total disregard for the sanctity of the holidays, and it gives the well-worn pot and stereotype material a much needed boost.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas picks up six years after “Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” which puts Harold and Kumar much closer in age to their real life counterparts, but further apart socially than we’ve ever seen them. Kumar hasn’t abandoned the bohemian dream of responsibility-free binge smoking, even though Harold has left him for a good job and a hot wife with an absolutely terrifying father (solidly played by Danny Trejo, who brings his trademark so-scary-it’s-funny glowering). A chance reunion of the boys caused by a mysterious package for Harold left at Kumar’s door leads to a mishap that sends the pair off on the most festive of quests: finding a Christmas tree.
The holidays are the perfect background for stories of reunion, and writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg manage to wring out some nice moments of self-awareness when the drug-fuelled escapades keep getting buzz-killed by the assumption that the characters should be growing up. It’s been seven years since “Go to White Castle”, and as Harold knowingly points out, most people lose half their friends in that time, something franchise die-hards may consider when remembering who they watched each film with. To say that the series has been a poignant commentary on maturing relationships might be a stretch, but it’s great to see a buddy-comedy willing to look at how friendships often don’t remain in a static bubble the way that most movie ones do.
Granted, all of this is really secondary to the jokes, which should satisfy fans of the previous films despite being mostly retreads of earlier gags, redressed in a holiday theme. Sex, race and drugs continue as the prime sources of inspiration, but with an increased focus on meta-humour, including a nice dig at Penn’s stint with the White House and a litany of jabs at 3D (more on that in a bit). The Yuletide spirit really elevates the material, with a tired “someone spiked our drink” gag acting as an excuse for an extended homage to claymation specials, and the movie has what’s probably the best A Christmas Story reference you’re like to see in an R-rated film.
The holiday trappings extend into the film’s structure, which uses the often continuity-free magic of a Christmas special as the perfect reason to lean into the series’ increasingly prominent weird side. The shots of coked-out babies, Jesus and a resurrected Neil Patrick Harris that made it into the trailers all come together in a plot that’s not just coherent, but well-paced, moving Harold and Kumar from one absurd comic setpiece to another with great economy. As in the previous films, Neil Patrick Harris is a real highlight, as his revived career only gives him more reason to be a crack-addled womanizer who resembles a sexual predator more and more with each movie.
And in addition to embracing the holiday spirit, the 3D tag in the title is no afterthought, as this is about as great an apotheosis of the technology as there ever will be. Bong smoke billows out at every opportunity and the various objects and fluids shot out at the audience are great gags in and of themselves. It’s a cathartic last hurrah for anyone tired of the extra dimension, but of course, this will likely limit the film’s rewatchability, as the 3D money shots won’t play with the same effect on a standard TV. Still, as a send-up of Hollywood’s most tiring trend, the constant winking at the camera plays well, even without the added depth.
It’s a real rarity, but A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas manages to breathe life into its well-established formula by using the same tricks that reek of desperation in other franchises. By committing to the Christmas movie formula and exploiting 3D to its gloriously stupid limit, a coda to the trilogy is enjoyably achieved. Though a sequel is always an option, leaving these characters as is will no doubt place “Harold & Kumar” among the greats of stoner comedies.
4 out of 5
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson