The Harold & Kumar franchise is a cult hit at its best. The Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a modest hit in theaters but it found a rich life as a word-of-mouth DVD hit. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay was an earned sequel, and while it wasn’t quite as good as the first, it was still enjoyable. But there’s always a danger when good movies go Christmas. Christmas has been done to death, it has rules, and it’s meticulously designed to engender warm feelings based on jingles and iconography. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas embraces not only Christmas movies but brilliantly combines it with the gimmick of 3D, and the result is a painfully funny R-rated X-mas flick that will be worth watching every holiday season.
Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart, fallen out of touch, and have new friends. Harold has moved on with his life, married Maria (Paula Garces) and they’re trying to have a family, although he’s terrified of her father, Carlos (Danny Trejo), who has a very good/racist reason for not liking his son-in-law. Kumar has remained a die-hard stoner, and he’s fallen into a rut after getting dumped by Vanessa (Danneel Ackles). When a mysterious package addressed to Harold arrives on Kumar’s doorstep, Kumar takes it to his old friend. Since Kumar’s purpose is to bring chaos into Harold’s life, mainly through weed-based shenanigans, they end up accidentally burning down Carlos’ beloved Christmas tree, and they have to hunt down a new one before Maria, Carlos, and their extended family return home from midnight mass.
The Harold & Kumar movies have a formula and a dynamic, and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas does not break with tradition. Harold has to grow a spine, Kumar has to grow-up, and their friendship needs to be reaffirmed. A road trip-based structure leads them around on various misadventures and comic escapades. It’s grown a little tired, but the success of these movies isn’t based on the plot but on the jokes. And by that metric, the new movie is a smashing success.
Simply put, Harold & Kumar 3D is one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year. There are jokes that had me laughing harder than anything the series has done to date and I will not spoil them here. Even though the marketing always plays up the stoner angle and the movie wants to wear its stoner heritage on its sleeve, the humor goes far beyond pot jokes and it always has. The Harold & Kumar movies always manage to balance drug humor with gross-out gags, racial jokes, crass dialogue, and flat-out absurdity. The new sequel plays to the franchise’s strengths brilliantly and then it smothers on the Christmas and 3D flavoring.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas knows that you don’t half-ass a gimmick. If Christmas movies require Santa, then who says we can’t shoot him in the face? If Bing Crosby is dreaming of a white Christmas, then why not turn that well-worn tune into a brilliant visual gag? Christmas movies have come to revere their own tired conventions and it takes an irreverent franchise like this one to punch the genre out of its stupor.
And if you’re going to throw a punch, why not throw it in 3D? The success of Avatar and the preaching of James Cameron and his ilk has put forward the notion that 3D is a “serious format”. It’s supposed to draw us deeper into finely crafted world and make action movies come alive. 3D does have that potential, but most of the time it’s simply an overblown gimmick, and Harold & Kumar 3D goes absolutely nuts with it. But the charmingly clever part is breaking the fourth wall with 3D and and with the jokes. The movie revels in referencing the past two, looking directly at the audience, commenting on 3D directly and indirectly, and making jokes about Cho and Penn’s work outside the Harold & Kumar franchise. The only self-referential joke it misses is pointing out that this movie follows the same structure and character arcs as the first two.
This casual cleverness fits with the movie’s laid-back tone and good-natured desire to throw as many jokes at the audience while rarely letting any one gag wear out its welcome. Once again, the Neil Patrick Harris stuff is played perfectly. He’s still an absolute scene-stealer and while his role has expanded over the franchise, they’ve never let him take over the movie. He’s just one of the guaranteed best parts. However, he gets some serious competition from the winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Robot, Wafflebot. I want one. It’s the best. I laughed at every single moment it was on screen.
Even if you were slightly disappointed with the second movie, you can’t miss Harold and Kumar’s latest adventure. It’s on par with the original movie and arguably even better. I’m usually annoyed by 3D, but you must see this movie in 3D (one of my few criticisms is that I’m not sure how much of the humor will be lost in the 2D version). I almost never want to see a 3D movie for a second time and I can’t wait to see this film again. And while I’ve tried to cut back on swearing in my reviews, I believe here it’s appropriate: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is fucking hilarious.