REVIEW: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 90 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Todd Strauss-Schulson
Writer(s): Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

“They serve pancakes in hell”

When your leads are a pair of co-eds who love pot and desire the delicious goodness of White Castle burgers to satisfy the inevitable munchies, throwing a litany of oddball situations and raunchy characters their way makes complete sense. It’s an asinine world populated by one-note figures somehow working within their contextual limitations to induce laughter from an audience’s need of immaturity’s release. As a result, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a brilliant stoner comedy with longevity, its surprising success birthing the equally dumbfounding idea of franchise possibilities. And while the coupling of a minority cast’s fearless use of taboo and racial epithets with the political strife of the Iraq war almost begging the sequel to be named Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, a third would need some out-of-the-box thinking to stir up interest.

For series creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, such an idea was the inspired choice to write their R-rated slackers into a holiday adventure. Six years after Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel’s (Kal Penn) previous escapades, the high concept A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas sets them on a quest to find a Christmas tree worthy of replacing the one they’ve burned down. Adding another stereotype to the mix, Harold needs his holiday to run flawlessly in order to win over his wife’s (Paula Garcés) criminally tempered father (Danny Trejo)—because Spanish and Catholicism go hand-in-hand. After an ill-fated trip to the one NYC tree farm possessing a facsimile of the twelve-foot fir grown from eight years of Mr. Perez’s own love, the boys find themselves at an underage party rife with illicit narcotics, on the run from Elias Koteas in a wasted role, onstage in a star-studded rendition of the Nutcracker, and even at their favorite burger joint with Rosenberg (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Goldstein (David Krumholtz).

But as its opening scenes allude, this entry’s debaucherous hell consists of more random vignettes than any truly worthwhile underlying plot. Kumar is bearded and paunchy, swearing at young children waiting to see Santa (Patton Oswalt) as he accosts the faux jolly genie for a little yuletide hashish. On the flipside, Harold—finally a success—calmly sits in his leather office chair to approve the Christmas gift his assistant Kenneth Park (Bobby Lee) has chosen while Occupy Wall Street picketers join in the streets below. So, between Penn and Oswalt’s drug dance and the Bugsy Malone-esque rapid-fire egg assault on Lee and Cho, cheap laughs are the name of the game. Not necessarily a bad thing, it’s something the writers have for the most part avoided thus far. More a joke machine than the fun romps with purpose of the past, the film does almost make up for its lack of story with extreme, force-fed humor.

The recycled jokes on the obnoxiousness of 3D should have been retired much earlier—although a beer pong ricochet and claymation organ later on earn smiles—and Kumar’s abrasive new friend Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) should have been excised altogether. Harold’s own best friend replacement in Thomas Lennon’s buzzkill Todd finds a bit more success, but it’s more from his toddler’s (Ashley and Chloe Cross) evolution into a junkie than by his own doing. These extraneous characters only help prove how Harold & Kumar works because Harold and Kumar work. We don’t want a frame to go by without these two onscreen since their unwitting ability to sabotage each other’s happiness is why we watch. Their interactions with crazed eccentrics lead into trademarked reactions and a world of overblown drama. Cutting away to show Blumenfeld open a bag of potato chips within a situation warranting complete silence is an abject failure in understanding what funny is.

Setting the film directly after Guantanamo could have rectified the entire situation—I really don’t know why they needed to use a gimmick such as the reunion put on display. Separating these two cohorts only means a prolonged period of establishing why and therefore scenes with Todd and Adrian that never live up to the hilarity of Cho’s wet blanket clashing with Penn’s carefree thirty-year old frat boy. Rosenberg and Goldstein worked because they lived on the fringes, so unless this new twosome is pitching a spin-off, they are worthless in the capacity used. Sure, tidbits like Harold and Maria looking to have a baby, Kumar and Vanessa’s (Danneel Ackles) break-up, and the bromance’s deterioration are given, but this information could have worked regardless. The only real problem retooling would have been filling the void of thirty minutes left by the rift’s excision, something that may have proved too daunting.

Thankfully all this superfluity doesn’t prevent the return of arguably the series’ best piece. Mocking his real coming out’s incongruity to his womanizing ways from the series—Neil Patrick Harris is gold again. Complete with ‘beard’ and rousing song and dance number, he even foreshadows a fourth installment with the same tongue-in-cheek sardonic humor used for the 3D gimmick. Also introducing the fan favorite Wafflebot as more than a commercial cut scene of scalding syrup and electrifying toasters, Harris’ gift gives the series its most surreal prop yet. A claymation interlude is a riot due to its duplicity of dimensions, but this waffle-making robot is by far the film’s centerpiece. Pitting it against Ukrainian hitmen sent to kill our heroes earns the biggest laugh, but at the end of the day this laugh works because of its relationship with the stoners. The same goes with a fun sequence with RZA and Da’Vone McDonald. I only hope the screenwriters realize this fact if a fourth gets made.


photography:
[1] (L-r) TOM LENNON as Todd, JOHN CHO as Harold, KAL PENN as Kumar and AMIR BLUMENFELD as Adrian in New Line Cinema’s and Mandate Pictures’ comedy “A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Darren Michaels
[2] NEIL PATRICK HARRIS as NPH in New Line Cinema’s and Mandate Pictures’ comedy “A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Darren Michaels
[3] (L-r) Kumar, voiced by KAL PENN, and Harold, voiced by JOHN CHO, in New Line Cinema’s and Mandate Pictures’ comedy ‘A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

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