A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Review)

While it may be mostly directed at fans of the series, Harold & Kumar’s latest misadventure proves that the duo can still deliver a solidly entertaining comedy with a fantastic riff on the 3D gimmick.

Score: **** (out of 5)

Rated:  R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence

A six-year-later threequel moving into the third dimension sounds like a trifecta for disaster. The “third movie curse”, a eerily common concept in which the third movie in a trilogy is far below the quality of the first two, has shot several series in the foot (Lethal Weapon, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Beverly Hills Cop, just to name a few).  Making the third film years later, probably after many fans no longer care, is also cause for concern.  However, the 3D movement, which has exhausted and frustrated the majority of moviegoers (and the numbers show it), is the anchor for this film’s comedy, a gloriously overused gimmick used to show everyone that that’s exactly what 3D is.  It also helps that the movie is still as funny as the series has ever been.

Harold & Kumar Christmas picks up several years after the ending of Escape from Guantanamo Bay, finding the two former best friends estranged without contact.  Harold (John Cho) is happily married and in a large, expensive looking house.  Kumar (Kal Penn) is still living in his apartment, doing little more than smoking weed all day.  Harold is tasked by his terrifying father-in-law (Danny Trejo, in a stroke of casting genius) with decorating the family’s traditional Christmas tree.  The tree, for his father-in-law, is kind of a big deal (explained in a ridiculous flashback about some nonsense involving him always wishing for a Christmas tree when he was a child and his mother getting stabbed to death by Korean gangsters).  When a package arrives at Kumar’s apartment addressed to Harold, Kumar decides to take it to his old friend, inadvertently leading to the prized Christmas tree burning down.  Harold has the rest of the evening to find a new tree and get it decorated before his in-laws get back.  Their journey takes them across the paths of Russian gangsters, a multitude of drugs, Neil Patrick Harris (again), and an affectionate and murderous sentient toy called WaffleBot.

The chemistry between the pair has always been what drives the film forward.  Cho and Penn interact so well together it’s easy to buy the idea of them being best friends.  Watching them move from uncomfortable acquaintances back into best friend territory feels very natural. This time around, they are joined by two more supporting cast members in the neurotic family man Todd (Thomas Lennon) and the obnoxious tagalong Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld).  They play their respective archetypes well and fit in completely naturally with the rest of the class.  And, of course, Neil Patrick Harris.  It has become a running joke of the series for NPH to cameo as himself in the films as a sex-obsessed sociopath.  Even though he came out as homosexual in between the second and third movies, this one actually incorporates his sexuality into the film by way of making it a simple ruse just to get even more women. It’s a natural progression for this version of the actor and ironically funny considering that NPH is one of the most prominent gay celebrities working today.  Even better, his “partner” in this movie is NPH’s real life fiance David Burtka (who is actually just NPH’s angry cocaine dealer in the film), and their entire scene together was completely improvised.  Strong ensembles are always a plus, and they really shine here.

The series’s signature filthy humor is back as well.  It’s better, too, consisting of fewer gross-out sight gags and more plain silliness, usually involving some drug.  One of the movie’s main running gags is Todd’s baby constantly getting exposed to drugs, all by accident.  Poor Todd sees his child inhale marijuana smoke, get hit in the face by a cloud of cocaine, and eat a handful of ecstasy (which even Todd himself mistakes for mints). This being a Christmas movie, they also have to subvert many cinematic classics as well, with perhaps the main target being A Christmas Story. There’s a relatively long-winded gag that puts a…different spin on the frozen pole scene from that movie. One of the movie’s best gags is Wafflebot, a pastry-cooking, creepily sentient robot who harbors powerful affection for its owners.  When it shows up in the second half of the film, there is a significant uptick in the number of laugh-out-loud moments.  If there’s another sequel, I will be the first to rally for Wafflebot’s return.

And of course, there is the 3D.  Large amounts of the film are devoted to subverting the format in every way possible.  James Cameron’s vision of 3D is immersion and depth.  Harold & Kumar use it to make teeth, balls, eggs, phallic objects, shards of glass, and literally everything else they can thing of blast out of the screen usually in ultra-slow motion.  It’s idiotic, self-indulgent gimmickry at it’s finest, and the best part is that the film is fully aware of how stupid the format is.  There’s even a scene, featured in the trailer, when a character is pitching a 3D television, and happily proclaims how amazing it is by double thumbs-up point at the screen (of course with his fingers popping out at the audience), to which Harold asks, “Who are you looking at?” This awareness of the stupidity of the format, as it gleefully uses it at every available opportunity, makes the film not only a good idea to see in 3D, but absolutely necessary to do so.  It helps that the 3D is actually really competently done: the picture looks crisp and bright, and there’s a legitimately impressive sequence in the middle involving slow-motion gunplay and exploding packages of cocaine, set to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (because of course it is).

Harold & Kumar Christmas is not for everyone.  The film is generally directed toward people who saw and enjoyed the first two films, and there are several direct references to the prequels that will go over the head of anyone who has not seen a Harold & Kumar film before. Additionally, anyone who is easily offended should avoid at all costs.  There’s nothing outright, horrifically offensive, but there are enough pokes at a multitude of sensibilities that there may be one or two instances of uncomfortable laughter.  The movie does take a short while to get going, as well.  While there are funny bits in the first half, it doesn’t really get the laughs until the second half, at which point it continues forward at a breakneck comedic pace until the very end. It pays off to stick with the movie.

I ended up having a lot of fun in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.  It delivers exactly what the series has always been known for: wild misadventures, bizarre drug fueled antics, and, at the end of the day, a healthy dose of buddy comedy.  This third movie, late as it is, still has each of those elements in spades, and has not missed a single beat in the stars’ and characters’ graduation to adulthood. Any fan of the series should not be afraid of the curse of the threequel, because this movie beats it down with a giant 3D bong. Celebrate commercialized Christmas early and check this one out.  See it, and see it in 3D.

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Posted on November 14, 2011, in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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