High Marks for 'A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas'
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
For a little over a year now -- since the October 2010 release of the dreadful "Life as We Know It," as a matter of fact -- I've been bitching about the really bad dope jokes that occur with unusual reliability in really bad romantic comedies produced and released by Warner Brothers or some offshoot thereof. Was there some sort of quota in place at the studio, I even wondered? All the while I never thought to muse on whether this preponderance of bad (that is to say, unfunny) dope jokes was spoiling me for actually funny dope jokes. Thank goodness that the third film featuring postmodern, not-exactly-post-racial college-rock-answers-to-Cheech-and-Chong characters Harold and Kumar (whose attack of the munchies led them on a desperate search for a White Castle and resulted in perhaps unwitting franchisedom back in 2004) has come along to make me laugh at substance abuse again.
Not just at substance abuse, but at cheesy 3-D effects, Christmas commercialism, teen sex, various egregious racial stereotypes, the increasing metafictional peculiarities of Neil Patrick Harris, and more. Coming in at a trim 89 minutes, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" not only lives up to its title to the power of 10, it also serves up a veritable holiday smorgasbord of remarkably inappropriate humor (a perhaps excessive number of jokes here involve a toddler's exposure to a wide variety of the aforementioned abuse-worthy substances).
Seven years after their first adventure, Harold and Kumar have grown up just as their respective goofball and straight-man personas would have them: Harold now has an awesome money-making yuppie job and a home in the suburbs with new "sconces" and stuff. Meanwhile, Kumar's stuck in the same Jersey hole, bearded and girlfriendless, turning down invitations to leave the house by pointing out, "No can do, man; I gotta stay here and smoke this or else I won't get high." Naturally, the duo are now estranged, and it's going to take a fair amount of cinematic Christmas magic to bring them back together.
For this reviewer, "Christmas" is better realized and tighter than the noble but scattershot 2008 effort "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay," which was a little too Bill-and-Ted-become-politically-aware for my taste. Kal Penn as Kumar and John Cho as Harold step into their roles with the natural ease that marks great comic teams; Penn never overplays his character's not-unknowing irresponsibility, while Cho's restraint is always rather remarkably vivid. The two actors anchor the picture as its nonstop gags veer from incredibly lowbrow (some urine and poop jokes), to nonchalantly offensive (the racial stuff is pretty fast and furious, particularly as it relates to Harold's father-in-law, a Christmas-happy badass played by Danny Trejo); from cheekily topical ("I told her you worked at the White House," Harold's new, and lame, buddy Adrian informs Kumar about the hostess of a Christmas party he's hoping to, um, impress) to knottily, almost staggeringly, well, literary (the evolution of the "Neil Patrick Harris" character played by, well, Neil Patrick Harris is reaching such levels of inspired po-mo absurdity that it's bound to be the subject of a postgraduate humanities seminar one of these days).
A good-natured crassness ties it all together, but be warned: The movie really wants your inner prig to protest "that's not funny" at some of the edgier jokes. What can I tell you? Not only did I laugh, I was finally convinced that the film's heart, such as it is, was in the right place. And I guarantee it's the only film you'll see this year to feature an entirely convincing 3-D cocaine snowstorm. Do not try this at home, people!
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.