Everyone -- even hardcore Harold and Kumar fans -- have been a little wary of the third installment in the surreal stoner series, myself included. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) was a pure joy, a kind of R-rated Bill and Ted that balanced its far-out drug humor with a consistently imaginative and clever screenplay -- even though Harold and Kumar were always on the lookout for the elusive fast food restaurant, you were never quite sure where they were actually going (and do any of us, really?). The sequel, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008), upped the ante with a genuine sense of danger -- it felt like these guys could buy it at any second (and Neil Patrick Harris did -- or did he? We'll get to that later), and what a bummer that would be, dude.
And then came word of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a cinematic present that no one was expecting and few seemed to even want. The general feeling was that John Cho (Harold) and Kal Penn (Kumar) have since moved on -- and so have we. Cheech and Chong (sort of) knew when to quit; Jay and Silent Bob (sort of) knew when to quit. Why ruin the memories of that glorious bust out of Guantanamo Bay and of vengeful hookers blowing away NPH?
Well, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is full of surprises, the first being that -- and I never thought I'd say this -- it's now my new favorite H&K movie.
It's been a few years since they broke out of the big house, and the boys (or, rather, men) have grown apart -- Harold is now married and has a decent job on Wall Street whilst Kumar is still slacking off and smoking the wacky weed. When Kumar receives a package that's addressed to his old pal, he decides to personally deliver it to Harold's doorstep -- an innocent gesture that leads to the destruction of the prized Christmas tree belonging to Harold's yuletide-loving father-in-law (Danny Trejo, thankfully back to supporting character roles after a it-probably-looked-good-on-paper starring turn in Machete). Once again, Harold and Kumar find themselves on a strange and decidedly non-PC journey as they look for a suitable replacement, a holiday odyssey through New York City that involves a baby covered in cocaine, Santa Claus himself getting shot in the face and, of course, the triumphant return of NPH, back from the dead and performing an insanely over-the-top Christmas variety show flanked by a bunch of hot Rockettes.
Wow, this movie's funny. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson's runs the show as if pre-production involved watching Airplane! a lot, throwing out an endless barrage of jokes and sight gags all to and fro in rapid-fire succession, letting us decide which ones we like and which ones we'll leave under the tree (luckily, there are more of the former than the latter). More than anything else, Strauss-Schulson deserves credit for taking 3D to completely and utterly insane heights (and depths) -- it seems like almost everything you can possibly imagine gets thrown at you, and more than a few things you can never possibly imagine do as well (and that's all we'll say about that). Believe it or not, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is the first film to truly utilize and push the boundaries of 3D technology (and trickery) since possibly James Cameron's Avatar (which -- believe it or not -- is almost two years old now).
You'd think that John Cho and Kal Penn would've outgrown this kind of stuff by this point -- Cho is now the new Sulu in J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek franchise and Kal Penn got a job at the White House (for real). But not only are they apparently not too old for this shit, they dive into their roles with an energetic gusto that somehow never seems forced or desperate. They seem genuinely happy and excited to be playing these two dudes again; it's as if Harold and Kumar are in the middle of a midlife crisis, and this movie is their sweet, tricked-out Ferrari.
For all their raunchy pokes and prods at different ethnicities, sexual orientations, holiday traditions, you name it, the Harold & Kumar movies have never actually been that offensive. Like a lot of R-rated bromance comedies, they actually end up being sweetly sentimental fairy tales about the transcendent power of having a best friend. Perhaps because of its particular holiday premise, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is actually the sweetest and most sentimental of them all, which actually makes it end up as more of a "traditional" Christmas movie than it set out to be.
So leave out a glass of milk and a plate of marijuana brownies, why don't you? Christmas has, indeed, come early this year.