Anyone going to a movie called A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas probably has some idea of what they’re getting themselves into. In fact, chances are good they’ve seen Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into — the generally stoned title characters in a series of nonsensical-to-surreal comic set-pieces designed to subvert or outright demolish any vestige of good taste and offend anyone within range of the screen. The secret is that Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are so likable and the whole enterprise so goofy that it’s really hard to be offended, though this will not prevent the determined from attaining moral indignation. Look, if a baby high on cocaine, Santa Claus blasted in the face with a shotgun, topless nuns showering together etc. strike you as offensive, Puss in Boots is right down the hall.
I greatly enjoyed — much to my surprise — the first Harold & Kumar movie. The second, not so much. This one, in my view, is nearer the quality of the first, which makes it fine with me. This latest is structured so that when the film opens Harold is successfully working for an investment firm, married to Maria (Paula Garces) and has a nice house in the suburbs. Kumar, on the other hand, is…well, irredeemably Kumar, living in the old apartment and pretty much perpetually stoned. His relationship with Vanessa (Danneel Ackles) has ended — or at least hit a really bad patch — because she can no longer stand his Kumarness. His entire raison d’être seems to be summed up when he tells his new friend Adriam (Amir Blumenfeld) he can’t go to a party because, “I’ve got to stay here and smoke this weed, or I won’t get high.” That — and the disasters that always follow in his wake — is why Harold has stopped associating with him.
That all changes when a mysterious Chistmas package for Harold is delivered to Kumar and Kumar decides to take it to his old friend. This sets off a chain of events culminating in a fire that consumes the picture-perfect Christmas tree of Harold’s daunting, Korean-hating father-in-law (Danny Trejo). The only hope is to replace it before the family returns from midnight Mass — and thus the search for that replacement sets the film in motion. I won’t detail the plot — the film is more fun if you don’t know exactly what’s coming — but I will say that it manages to include a murderous Ukrainian gang boss (Elias Koteas) who watches Tyler Perry movies, a very strange and tasteless claymation drug fantasy and, of course, the inevitable resurrection of Neil Patrick Harris as the series’ obnoxiously aggressive heterosexual version of himself.
The film’s aim at being shocking is generally undercut by how cheerfully foolish it all is, making it hard to find seriously offensive. What is ultimately more shocking and truly on the subversive side is that all of the film’s various and sundry outrages are geared to exactly the same thing as any family-friendly Christmas yarn: providing life lessons so the main characters learn what truly matters. Disney never did it any better, though for whatever reason, Disney never thought to shoot Santa in the face or have anyone’s penis get stuck to a cold flagpole.
This, by the way, is one of the very few times that I’d recommend seeing a film in 3D (not that I think there’s any choice in the matter locally). Harold & Kumar manages to expose this increasingly tired gimmick for what it is by wallowing in its very silliness, and in the bargain gets more good out of the effect — with more amusement value — than perhaps any 3D film to date. Who knew that marijuana smoke made for such a good 3D effect? Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.