If it weren’t for the latest 3D craze we’d never see marijuana smoke wafting off the big screen.
That’s one of the few bright spots to be found in “A Very Harold & Kumar3D Christmas,” the third chapter in the aggressively juvenile franchise. Our heroes are older and not much wiser, and now they’re taking on everything that’s sacred about the holidays.
It’s getting harder to shock audiences today, but the new “Harold & Kumar” tries mightily to do just that. We get cocaine sniffing toddlers, Santa Claus suffering a massive head wound and an attempted rape by a character pretending to be gay.
The original “Harold & Kumar” caught us off guard by its generous ethnic casting and the clever use of an otherwise washed up Neil Patrick Harris. By now, it’s clear the franchise has nothing inventive to share, save the notion that stoners will line up to see any film marketed with their addled demographic in mind.
The new film finds Harold (John Cho) living the upper middle class dream. He’s got a plush Wall Street gig – where he can look down on the ubiquitous protestors from a safe distance – and a gorgeous Latina wife. His biggest worry is winning over her demanding father (“Machete’s” Danny Trejo).
Meanwhile, a bearded Kumar (Kal Penn) lives in a cluttered apartment where he can smoke up to his heart’s content. Even the news that his longtime girlfriend is pregnant can’t cut through his arrested development haze.
The old friends haven’t so much as seen each other in two years, but they reconnect after a mysterious package addressed to Harold is sent to Kumar’s apartment by accident. Kumar proceeds to burn down Harold’s Christmas tree, sending the pair on a wild trip through town to find a suitable replacement.
That journey leads to a series of so-so gags, a botched attempt at Claymation and the dispirited feeling that these stoners should have headed back to White Castle and left us alone. The original movie won us over, in part, due to the casting of two non-white males in the lead roles and the stereotype deconstruction that followed. But with “Christmas,” we’re left to endure limp ethnic gags like the notion that all Asians look alike.
The film’s aggressive use of 3D is essentially meaningless. The floating debris, be it hurled eggs, ganja smoke or shards of glass, exists solely for calorie-free amusement. If there’s a funny way to utilize the technology, this film can’t think of it.
The meta-gags similarly fall flat. The script references Penn’s real-life gig as an Obama employee as well as Cho’s side gig as the new Mr. Sulu in the “Star Trek’ reboot. Reliable scene stealer Thomas Lennon provides the bulk of the laughs as Harold’s straight-laced pal who brings his young daughter along, unaware of the hijinks to come. He’s the anal retentive parent caught in the Harold & Kumar vortex, and every reaction shot Lennon delivers is priceless.
It wouldn’t be a “Harold & Kumar” film without Harris, and the openly gay actor sends up his image by playing a straight version of himself pretending to be gay. Confused? It plays much better than it sounds, although even his extended cameo wears out its welcome. The film’s final moments offer a modicum of Christmas charm, but by then it’s far too late to spring season’s greetings on ticket buyers.
“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” won’t replace “A Christmas Story,” “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation” as the country’s next yuletide favorite. It’s solely for stoners content to spend another 90 minutes with this generation’s Cheech and Chong.