The Harold & Kumar franchise has always done a few things that no other movie does, and I’m not talking about characters smoking out. For instance, as the series’ stars Kal Penn and John Cho are always quick to point out, it’s just about the only movie franchise with two lead actors of Asian descent. Maybe that’s why they’re back for a third one, since there’s almost literally no other leading work available for either of them out there, despite being proven comedic commodities. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas just feels like that kind of movie, a film everyone showed up to be a part of simply because they had nowhere else to go.
That’s a shame since the first two Harold & Kumar’s were, if nothing else, movies made with a kind of fervor for drug and gross-out humor rarely seen anywhere else. That was always part of the charm. Far too often, this third one feels all too much like it’s simply going through the motions. It starts by setting up yet another conflict between lifelong friends Harold and Kumar.
It’s been a few years since we saw the pot-loving duo. Harold is married and Kumar is still Kumar. They don’t really hang out much anymore, Harold has been trying to grow up and Kumar hasn’t bothered. Magic, pot-fueled circumstances bring the two together again and they embark on an Adventures in Babysitting like outing across the city in search of a Christmas tree. This time they’re both accompanied by two new friends, one played by Thomas Lennon and the other played by some unbearable hipster douche bag who I hope I never have to see in another movie again, which the movie abandons in a closet when they’re no longer convenient.
Harold and Kumar’s journey to find a tree on Christmas eve ends up taking them a lot of places most movie audiences have already been before. The film is built mainly on gags recycled on other films, and an overabundance of mostly unnecessary, generally unfunny special effects. Remember that scene in The Other Guys where Will Ferrell’s character goes drinking with Terry Hoitz? They do that. Remember that awesome claymation episode of Community (or insert any one of a dozen other recent movies and television shows) from last year? They do that too. Also, there’s a robot.
You know this movie’s a misfire when even Neil Patrick Harris isn’t funny anymore. NPH was the bright and shining star of the two previous films, but despite a clever blending of NPH’s real life persona and his movie one, this sequel seems more concerned with using him to justify the film’s use of 3D via a confetti shooting Christmas dance number, than doing anything funny with him. You know what NPH’s funniest scene in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is? The one they replay from the end of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
I’m sad to report that Harold and Kumar have lost much of whatever it was that made them so great in the first place. This movie doesn’t have a scene like the one with NPH on a unicorn, or the one where Anthony Anderson threatens to “burn this motherfucker down” when confronted with the undeniable perfection of White Castle burgers. Instead it has a lot of stuff you’ve seen before, in other movies and in the other Harold and Kumar movies too. They’ve slapped 3D on it, perhaps hoping that by throwing a lot of stuff at the camera (and they do throw a lot) you won’t notice, but you will.
Yet even if I didn’t find myself laughing much at this sequel, I still admire the way these movies stand up for what they believe in. Not only is it one of the few movies to feature Asian Americans simply behaving as people instead of stereotypes, it also tells the truth about drugs. As with the previous two films, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas never misrepresents or demonizes marijuana. Unlike just about every other movie you’ve ever seen in a movie theater (especially Transformers… thanks Witwickys), is a movie about pot without the pot propaganda. The gang goes on all sorts of crazy adventures, but the film stays true to the fundamental truth that most of their problems aren’t caused by recreational bong use, but by themselves. Harold & Kumar's heart is in the right place. Now if only they’d found a way, as they did with the previous films, to also make it funny.
Find out if A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas's 3D is bong-worthy by reading To 3D Or Not To 3D.