When a film franchise hits the point where it’s releasing a Christmas-themed entry or flaunting 3D, it should be a sign that the series is dying. Yet somehow, the Harold & Kumar series only seems to be getting better in it’s potentially-gimmicky third chapter. The ethnically-diverse rambling stoner odysseys have been amongst the most consistently hilarious and delightfully offensive comedies to work their way through the studio system in the last decade. There aren’t any other movies coming out of Hollywood that offer running gags about a baby sampling a variety of illegal substances, and for that reason alone the movie qualifies as a delightful Christmas gift for anyone who has both holiday cheer and a sick sense of humour.
It’s been six years since Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, and in that time the boys have split up. Harold is now a successful Wall Street type whose working on getting a baby inside in his new wife in time for a visit from her intimidating, Christmas-loving father (the always-awesome Danny “Machete” Trejo). Kumar is still smoking himself silly in their old apartment when his layabout lifestyle of buy drugs off of mall star Santas and helping the 20something across the hall hook up with an online girlfriend is rudely interrupted by news that his ex is pregnant. A mysterious package brings the former best buds back together and sends them out on a quest to find a new Christmas tree to appease Trejo. Along the way, they get Harold’s uptight new friend (an absolutely hysterical Tom Lennon) and his baby high on nearly every conceivable narcotic, tangle with the Russian mob, shoot Santa in the face, and inevitably encounter franchise regular Neil Patrick Harris as a psychotic, sex-crazed version of himself.
By now the Harold & Kumar movies have a pretty set formula that works. They are essentially spins on the ol’ Hope n’ Crosby Road pictures, with the pair sent out on a meaningless quest that has them encounter a series of increasingly outrageous comedy characters. It’s pretty simple stuff not that far removed from a sketch comedy movie, but delivers the goods incredibly well. Co-writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have settled into an oddly surreal tone that works wonders with the inebriated fanbase. They are able deal with all manner of off-color material like sexual perversion, violence, and child abuse because the tone is so light and silly that it’s impossible to cause any offense. The movies also feature a subtle racial commentary that gives them just enough intellectual content to qualify as guilty pleasures. Stoner movies should theoretically scrape the bottom of the entertainment barrel, but this series is just smart and self-aware enough to rise above the dreck. It’s a franchise for stoned intellectuals to pontificate over for hours until they sober up and realize they were digging far too deep into a silly story.
A big reason for the continued success comes down to the cast. Kal Penn and John Cho are both strong actors capable of genuine warmth and emotion in addition to being fearless about participating in crude physical gags (special props go to Cho on this one for being willing to appear in an update of the infamous tongue-on-a-flagpole scene in A Christmas Story with a much more sensitive organ). Between movies Penn worked for the Obama administration (yes, I’m serious), while Cho signed up for JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. They’re talented enough to succeed in those ventures, but something about the characters of Harold and Kumar suit the actors so well that they’ll hopefully keep coming back to the series. Neil Patrick Harris once again plays himself as a psychotic, and practically steals the show (the writers even play on the fact that’s he’s now openly gay in real life, claiming that he fakes it to get closer to nervous “p-tang”). There are rumors about his character getting a spin-off movie, and given how funny he’s been through three films, it’s not a terrible idea. The new additions to the cast for this movie are all strong, with special notice going to Reno 911’s Tom Lennon, who plays an aggressively white middle-class father. His character is such a hilarious contrast to the R-rated shenanigans surrounding him that he should be brought back for the inevitable part four.
Judged on title alone, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas should be a disposable studio product, yet it’s probably the funniest comedy of the fall. It’s a film that serves little purpose beyond crude laughs, but delivers those dirty jokes was such joy and consistency that it’s impossible not to have a good time. It’s even a movie worth paying to watch through plastic glasses, since director Todd Strauss-Schulson packs the film with hilariously self-mocking 3D gags. The film requires the attention span of a gnat to enjoy (the target audience won’t be in a crisp state of mind after all) and sometimes that’s all you need. Dumb comedies done well are amongst the finest guilty pleasures, and Harold And Kumar’s sacrilegious Christmas adventure is one of the funniest and stupidest movies worth wasting money on right now. A guaranteed holiday perennial for medical marijuana supporters from now until the end of time.