Whatever your opinion might be of stoner, gross-out comedies, there’s much to admire in the third chapter of the adventures of Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn). For what was a mid-level budget, the look of the production is first-rate. Nothing screams low-budget and the Christmas “feel” does come through. There’s also an actual theme at work here, which is established quickly, manages to hold on through all the shenanigans, and does pay off.
A few years have passed since Harold and Kumar escaped from Guantanamo or killed time hanging out together smoking their beloved mary jane. And sometime over the course of the last few years, the boys went their separate ways and became estranged. They’re now two completely different people who haven’t seen each other in over a year and probably wouldn’t become friends were they to meet for the first time today. In fact, they would probably hate each other.
Harold now works in high finance. His is now THE MAN and even has to deal with Occupy Wall Street-types who protest outside his offices. Harold also enjoys an upper middle-class life in the suburbs with a nice car and an even nicer fiancée. Kumar, however, is still Kumar — an unemployed burn-out who smokes weed all day and avoids responsibility like he does a shower. Closing in on 30, sadly, the reefer’s become an escape for Kumar, a way to avoid coming to terms with the emptiness of his life and the loss of his girlfriend. What had been recreational and rebellious in his youth, is now a pathetic crutch.
It’s Christmastime and Harold’s smoking-hot fiancee’s rather large family has come to stay for the holidays. The most important thing to Harold’s future father-in-law (Danny Trejo), a man who’s crazy about Christmas and someone with whom Harold is desperate to make a good impression, is the perfect tree. Harold promises everyone that when they return from church, the perfect tree will be decorated and waiting for them. They leave. Kumar shows up. Mayhem ensues.
The story is only sporadically funny. In-between bits that are truly clever, like a clay-mation sequence and Neil Patrick Harris riffing on his public persona, the jokes tend to be more miss than hit. The more vulgar (very vulgar) stuff meant to shock mostly falls flat, but some of the less politically correct moments involving race do hit the mark. It’s all good-natured and, in this day and age, pretty refreshing.
While this third chapter is definitely an improvement over the one-note Bush-bash that was chapter two, you can still sense The New Production Code at work. Some targets are safe. Some are not. Muslims and gays take no satiric hits and I still don’t understand a Hollywood that crusades against cigarettes but builds a trilogy around two sympathetic protagonists who, without any health consequences, love to smoke dope.
In the end, though, this is a story about two estranged friends who have gone their separate ways, grown apart, and are now uncomfortable in each other’s company. The emotional spine of the story involves them finding a way to become friends again, and this is something many of us can relate to. There are also some mature themes involving family and the reality that you actually do have to grow up eventually.
If you’re a fan of the genre or the first two, you’re going to enjoy the further adventures of… Others should probably stay away.
‘A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas’ is available at Amazon.