Babies taking ecstasy, Ukranian mobsters, womanizing celebrities pretending to be gay, mens’ privates being frozen to a pole, claymation animation, Santa Claus taking a shotgun shell to the face, killer waffle-machines, car chases and 3-D cocaine snow-storms aren’t everyone’s idea of a traditional Christmas film. But then again the “Harold & Kumar” franchise never really was crafted with the majority in mind, instead catering to the audience craving a comedy a little more raunchy and radical than common, bland PG-13 offerings. (key example: this film’s counter-programming this weekend, “Tower Heist”) This critic is one such example, although that doesn’t necessarily mean I go to movies seeking the above criteria. I don’t.
That said, “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” has its doses of sweet, although its awareness of traditional Christmas cinema doesn’t bode well for the sincerity of them. With these films we’ve tracked the stoner duo’s misadventures, and set several years afterwards, it appears they’ve settled down. The newly-married Harold is now a successful Wall Street executive, where Kumar’s life is about as static and blown (literally) as it was before. But when, I kid you not, a magical joint brings the two back together, they must scramble to replace the “perfect” Christmas tree Harold’s menacing father-in-law provided — that is, until the joint put it all into flames. Literally.
This quest for a simple tree turns into something much wilder, pushing the boundaries of the R-rating often. But “Harold and Kumar” slyly subverts a lot of trends we as a culture hold dear — simple family gatherings, our penchant for 3D, anti-Wall Street sentiment, pro-Wall Street sentiment. Nothing is held sacred here, and although the movie never really says anything meaningful about whatever its tackling, it holds a defiant middle-finger up to it nonetheless.
John Cho and Kal Penn are in top form as the titular duo. This series has brought them nothing but goodwill, landing Cho a spot in “Star Trek” and, in a bizarrely wonderful twist of fate, scoring Penn a spot in the White House. In bit roles, Patton Oswalt as a drug-dealing mall-Santa, Danny Trejo as the fearsome father-in-law who sets it all into motion, and Neil Patrick Harris, returning as himself for the third straight time in the series. Harris electrifies this franchise as he consistently has.
“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” has a massive amount of shenanigans to condense into 89 minutes, coming at the expense of cohesion and clarity. It’s shoddily edited and stitched together, more often than not feeling like a rough-cut with awkward transitions, introductions, and actions randomly repeated twice. Oddly enough, had he waited a little longer for the actual Christmas period, I’m sure director Todd Strauss-Schulson could have worked out the nitpicks and kinks fairly easily.
Yeah, characters are underdeveloped, racial stereotypes are repeatedly employed, and the 3-D technology is only really used whenever the makers want to throw a bodily fluid in your face. And believe me, they throw EVERY bodily fluid in your face. But if it offends audiences it’s no one’s fault but their own, given these films’ reputations at this point. For what it is and who its for, “Harold and Kumar” is a near-perfect Christmas film, subverting and offending near everything in its path while actually being a fairly heartfelt contribution to the holiday genre. I’m excited to see the continuing path of one of the more daring, radical, and charming comedic franchises out there at this point. B+