The more I think about it, the more sense it makes for Harold and Kumar to be stuck in a Christmas movie. The stoner comedy and the schmaltzy Christmas movie are American classics, and their staying power is tied to their dependability. Familiar with both genres, I expected a heartwarming ending, in addition to copious nudity and dick jokes. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas delivers precisely what it promises, and also adds sly racial commentary with even a little meta-humor.
It’s been two years since best friends Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have seen each other. Harold now lives in the suburbs with his gorgeous wife, whereas Kumar prefers the squalor of stoner-dom. Harold is freaking out because his father-in-law (Danny Trejo) is coming to town for Christmas, and he wants the perfect holiday (the father-in-law already hates Asians since a gang of Korean thugs killed his mother). The symbol of the perfect Christmas is a tall, beautiful tree, one that Kumar burns down moments after he enters Harold’s home. On a quest to bring a tree back to the suburbs, the estranged friends head to New York, where they encounter demented robots, Ukrainian gangsters, and Neil Patrick Harris.
The key to this movie’s success is how director Todd Strauss-Schulson juxtaposes a cheerful tone with irreverent humor. Harold’s friend Todd (Thomas Lennon) embodies the boring, Christmas-loving father, and before long his sweet little girl is stoned out of her mind. Kumar’s plan for stealing a tree involves breaking into a church and exploiting a priest’s weakness for young boys. The screenplay by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who wrote the first two H&K movies) moves at a steady clip so there is never time to be offended.
But as with the other Harold and Kumar movies, the best jokes occur when the movie acknowledges then subverts stereotypes. Aside from the familiar racial stereotypes – including a terrific riff on the “good cop, bad cop” routine from two black salesmen – the funniest sequence is the NPH’s extended cameo. Neil Patrick Harris is more well-known now, and the screenplay finds a sneaky way to play with his real-life sexuality and the one of his comic persona. Ultimately, the movie belongs to Cho and Penn, who still have the odd-ball chemistry that made their trip to White Castle such a success. Jokes about encroaching adulthood and a throwaway line about Penn’s recent stint in DC show how the actors are getting too old for this shit, yet they have the chops for this material, which is probably harder than it looks.
Like Hobo with a Shotgun and Snakes on a Plane, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D* Christmas is the sort of movie title that also serves as a barometer over whether you will enjoy it. Do you want to see Santa take a celebratory bong hit? Then you’ll probably enjoy yourself, looking past the obvious punch-lines to find a funny stoner romp. Families or mature audiences, on the other hand, will probably take issue with the mostly sophomoric material. This is the sort of comedy I could watch every Christmas Eve after my parents go to bed.
* The director may use 3D for its maximum gross-out potential, but it’s unnecessary for the movie’s success.