A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas: Film Review

Harold Kumar Neil Patrick Harris - H 2011
Warner Bros.

Harold Kumar Neil Patrick Harris - H 2011

It’s Harold & Kumar vs. Christmas and, yes, Christmas wins out.

The third installment of these mildly successful stoner comedies finds the rapidly aging stoners going up against Christmas and all its traditions, all with an added dimension.

The minds behind A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas weren’t kidding about that 3D in the title. Things come flying off the screen every few moments — a flaming Christmas tree, showers of glass, lawn ornaments, lots of eggs, pot smoke, exploding confetti and, look out, here comes the kitchen sink! The third installment of these mildly successful stoner comedies doesn’t so much work off a screenplay as a checklist: Have we shown any spurting blood recently? Has a young child inadvertently dragged into the movie’s misadventures ingested any new drug? When was the last racial joke?

Let’s not lament how yet another comedy series has gone off the rails because this one really hasn’t. Once upon a time — that time being 2004 when Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle became something of a cult hit — the joke was that here’s a stoner road movie about a bookish Korean-American and an Indian-American party animal, ethnic stereotypes filling in for the usual Anglo stereotypes who would inhabit these roles. The New Yorkers — well played by John Cho andKal Penn — ventured into the night seeking smokes, girls and sliders at a White Castle burger joint.

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Nothing has changed. After being waylaid by the lame Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay in 2008, Harold and Kumar, looking well past 30 — the actors always played much younger than they were — return for another nocturnal ramble that will increasingly move into surreal fantasy. But the situation, for all the 3D claptrap, remains essentially the same: Two reasonably authentic characters tumble into a Wonderland of sheer nonsense.

How funny this nonsense is will be found in the minds of viewers. So in this instance, reactions will very in the extreme. A person could grow up appreciating the Marx Brothers, Three Stooges and John Landis comedies and may still find this movie’s only funny line concerns Kal Penn’s brief career diversion into the Obama White House. Others will bust a gut laughing at the robot waffle-maker, a desperate virgin, Ukranian mobsters, African-American con artists and a critically injured Santa.

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The script by Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, who have written all three films, shows desperation in the what-can-we-do-now panic that motivates much of the story. Like the White Castle movie didn’t? Yet at the core of this movie lies a real problem: What happens when former college friends drift away from each other?

Harold has bought into the middle-class American dream with the deluxe house in the suburbs and a beautiful wife Maria (Paula Garces), albeit one who, being Mexican and this being a comedy trafficking in racial stereotypes, comes with a family headed by a father (Danny Trejo) and extended family that look like they stumbled in from a Robert Rodriguez movie. Kumar, on the other hand, is still a pot-smoking kid at 30, whose girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris) would ditch him only she has just learned she is pregnant.

A package misaddressed to Harold’s former abode — Kumar’s mess of a walk-up flat — brings the two together on Christmas Eve and, naturally, disaster ensues. A Christmas tree, ignited by an errant joint, goes up in smoke, necessitating the two men and their new “best friends” — Kumar’s horny pal Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) and Harold’s suburban wuss amigo Todd (Tom Lennon) — to hazard the night’s many caprices to find a suitable substitute.

No doubt serious substance abuse prior to the movie will make these adventures much funnier, however, there are occasional inspired flights of fancy including the movie’s sudden deviation into claymation with stop-motion characters, all the winks and nods over the 3D Christmas and yet another appearance by Neil Patrick Harris playing a character called “Neil Patrick Harris.”

You might think of this movie as a lineal descendent of the Hope-Crosby road pictures, which took two hapless characters into misadventures, musical numbers and self-referential gags and in-jokes that played with audiences’ memories of past movies and movie conventions themselves.

It’s as harmless as it is stupid so neither the claymation schlong nor a seriously drugged child should offend. They will, of course, and indeed the filmmakers are counting on someone to think this is all edgy humor when in fact Cheech and Chong beat everyone to the punch years ago. (Up in Smoke is the best stoner comedy ever and that’s the end of the discussion.)

So A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is, like its predecessors, a mildly diverting naughty comedy, lacking the pure comic nastiness of Bad Santa or the sheer audacity of Up in Smoke.

Tech credits achieve high marks — whoops, let’s make that solid marks — for the 3D shenanigans and the claymation by an Oregon-based company, HOUSE Special. A shorts and TV director named Todd Strauss-Schulson made his feature debut with this movie and hasn’t been mentioned until now because he seems to bring little personality or vision to this effort. The film’s success really comes down to Kal Penn and John Cho and the almost endearing, idiotic characters they have created over these three films.

Opens: Nov. 4 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: New Line Cinema presents in association with Mandate Pictures a Kingsgate Films production
Cast: Kal Penn, John Cho, Amir Blumenfeld, Tom Lennon, Danny Trejo, Elias Kotaes, Neil Patrick Harris, Paula Garces, Danneel Harris, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Krumholtz, Bobby Lee
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Screenwriters: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Producer: Greg Shapiro
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Nicole Brown, Richard Brener, Michael Disco, Samuel J. Brown
Director of photography: Michael Barrett
Production designer: Rusty Smith
Music: William Ross
Costume designer: Mary Claire Hannan
Editor: Eric Kissack
R rating,  90 minutes