Note: In the following review, both John and Tim provide their comments on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
"The Universe tends to unfold as it should."
The above quote from 2004's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" pretty much sums up the story's point. In a series of surreal, almost existential sequences, we follow the wanderings of a pair of young slackers as they go in pursuit of the perfect hamburger, ironically a White Castle's bite-sized, fast-food concoction. In the course of their infantile adventures, they manage to meet and skewer a series of stereotypes, whilst rather endearing us to their characters. The film is remarkably silly and often empty-headed, yet it leaves one pleasantly amused rather than angrily wanting one's money back. In other words, it's not as bad as it sounds.
The first thing you have to know about the film is that Danny Leiner directed it. In addition to a ton of TV credits, he's the fellow who gave us the immortal "Dude, Where's My Car?" Although "Dude" was a small, dumb, boring, numskull of a movie that also featured a pair of young slackers wandering through a series of seemingly meaningless encounters, Leiner appears to have matured somewhat in the ensuing four years and invested his newer tale with a bit more compassion and point. That he also filled it with more gross jokes involving farting, peeing, defecating, swearing, and staring at women's breasts may be a result of this Blu-ray disc being an "Extreme Unrated" edition, I don't know. It's unfortunate because Leiner might have fashioned a better film had he exercised a little more subtlety.
On one of the accompanying audio commentaries, the director explains that in making this film he was responding to the typical youth films of the 90s, poking fun at them, as it were, and attempting to turn them on their side. He says that past filmmakers would have generally overlooked his film's two protagonists--a Korean-American, Harold Lee (John Cho), and an Indian-American, Kumar Patel (Kal Penn)--and made them secondary characters in previous movies.
Harold works as a junior analyst for an investment firm where everybody takes advantage of him for being so nice. He's shy and conservative, with a low self-esteem. His roommate and best friend, Kumar, is sort of a pre-med student who doesn't really want to go to medical school but pretends to be trying in order to sponge off his father's money. Unlike Harold, Kumar is outgoing and self-confident. They make a strangely affecting odd couple whose common interests in pot, girls, and burgers holds them together.
Their New Jersey odyssey to find a White Castle (and along the way score some weed) leads them through a number of goofy escapades and allows them to meet an assortment of oddball characters, including a beautiful neighbor, Maria (Paula Garces), for whom Harold has the hots; an uptight dean, Dr. Willoughby (Fred Willard); a pair of boob-obsessed neighbors, Rosenberg (Eddie Kay Thomas) and Goldstein (Dana Krumholtz); and Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D."), who plays himself as a horny hitchhiker.
Now, here's the thing: The filmmakers may have made a harebrained film, but they surely had high ambitions for its themes. We've got a pair of young men finding themselves on a journey of self-discovery as they seek the Holy Grail of burgers. The "White Castle" is an apt metaphor for Carbonek, the Grail Castle of Arthurian myth, the legendary place where the Fisher kings kept the Sangreal for knights who were worthy enough to behold it. Harold and Kumar are on a quest, in this case to learn who they are. Does that sound too highfalutin, too pompous or pretentious, for a simple comedy? Probably, but it's still a noble goal for so modest a product, and it's pretty clever, too.
The movie intentionally plays on every formulaic image you can name in its attempt to lampoon them, using racial stereotypes, sexist stereotypes, sexual stereotypes, hippie stereotypes, pothead stereotypes, Ivy League stereotypes, police stereotypes, hoodlum stereotypes, you name it. Some of these characters and situations are funny; many are not. I found myself laughing at a racoon, a cougar, a Burger Shack employee (Anthony Anderson), a tow-truck driver (Christopher Meloni), and a prisoner in a jail (Gary Anthony Williams).
So, it's not as though the film is totally devoid of humor. It's just that much of this road-trip wit is mundane and tedious, too, with gags that should have gone out of style years ago, the jokes punctuated with far too much obviousness.
Yet for all its juvenile shortcomings, there's a sweet and beguiling charm to the film, and the laid-back antics of its heroes at least make it seem harmless and fun. "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" is no classic, but it never really bored me, either. You just can't help liking these guys.
John's film rating: 6/10
The Film According to Tim:
First of all, let me say that the following review is in no way intended to offend the youth of America and in no way intended to stereotype or label teens and young adults. I will say that "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is a film intended for the younger audience that finds the plethora of potty humor, fart jokes, marijuana jokes, and racial humor the best comedy money can buy. There was a time, even in my youth, that I would have found this film hilarious and may have even thought of it as one of the best comedies of all time. Unfortunately, I had to grow up and now I find this style of comedy redundant and, worst of all, lacking originality.
It was a funny thing as I was watching this film, I couldn't help but think why it was not called "Dude Where's My Car 2." I did a little research and found that the director of the film, Danny Leiner, also directed "Dude Where's My Car." I can only guess that Mr. Leiner has no intention of expanding his directing talents into other avenues. Instead of doing anything original, he decides to pollute our youth with vulgar, drug-induced humor that can only be understood if you are on drugs. Well, as I mentioned, there was a time I would have bought into this humor, but it does little for me now because so much of it lacks any class.
"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" sums up its plot in the title of the film. It is simply about two roommates, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), who spend a night getting high on weed, get the munchies, and have a crazy notion to go find a White Castle hamburger restaurant. Along the way, they run into a slew of misguided and unfortunate events that find them in the most ridiculous situations. In one scene, you have two English girls having a fart battle in a girls' bathroom. In another scene, you watch Kumar in a dream sequence chasing more pot bags around than a Cheech and Chong film. Then there are scenes of racial humor that leave no one untouched. Whether you are black, Asian, Eastern Indian, white-trash, or a pot-smoking hippie there's bound to be a joke about your kind. And beware to those who find this kind of humor offensive because there's plenty of it. Most of it is stereotyped yet subtle, but there are a few moments when you think to yourself, "That's just wrong!"
There were some instances that did make me laugh out loud, though, and I will give credit where credit is due for those brief moments. However, most of the humor is so commonplace, it did little to enlighten to amuse me. Most of the situations and scenes are meant to be funny, and granted some of them are, but many of them have been overplayed and overdone in other films of the same genre. The fact is, if you have seen "Dude Where's My Car," then you have seen "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle."
Funny that I mention Leiner's previous film because there is a scene where the title of his previous masterpiece is used. Along the way, Harold and Kumar give Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) a ride to who-knows-where. Neil wants nothing to do with Harold and Kumar's journey to White Castle and is bent on finding women. The boys end up stopping at a convenience store and leave Neil in the back seat of Harold's car. Neil ends up stealing Harold's car in an attempt to find naked women. As Harold and Kumar watch their transportation drive away in the parking lot, what's the first line to come out of Harold's mouth? "Dude...where's my car?" Well, as I said, the movie does lack originality.
It is fortunate for me this film was only ninety minutes long. I don't think I could have sat through much more had it been any longer. I'll admit the film does go by quickly, but I can only imagine that had I smoked a bunch of weed like Harold and Kumar, it may have been worse. Then again, I may have understood the film better. Nevertheless, when it comes to youthful potty humor films, I prefer at least to stick with the ones that have class and stand the test of time, such as "National Lampoon's Animal House."
Tim's film rating: 5/10
The New Line video engineers use a dual-layer BD50, VC-1 transfer to reproduce the 1080p high-definition picture. The 1.85:1 ratio widescreen image is very smooth, very clean, and maybe too often very soft. Colors are excellent--deep, bright, and vivid. In fact, it's hard to fault, except to wish for something more in the way of detail and texture.
The disc transfer uses a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 format to reproduce the sonics, a lossless audio codec that seems a lot like overkill for the rather mundane soundtrack with which it works. Let's just thank heaven for small favors. Better overkill than total mediocrity. In any case, the sound is pretty tame, mostly dialogue, with a touch of surround activity here and there like a little thunder and some street noise. In its favor, the audio sounds refined and natural, and it has a thumping bass when called upon.
No one can say that New Line skimped on the special features. There's a ton of them here, most of them probably unnecessary, but enough to let a person pick and choose what he likes. To begin, there are three separate audio commentaries. The first is with director Danny Leiner and actors John Cho and Kal Penn; the second is with writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, with John Cho sitting in; and the third is with "Extreme Sports Punk #1" in the movie, Danny Bochart (spelled "Bouchard" on the keep case). Bochart says this was the first film he ever did, and his language tends to prove the point. While the first two commentaries are primarily analytical, Bochart's is as crude as much of the movie.
Next, there is a series of featurettes. "The Back Seat Interview" is just that, thirteen minutes with John Cho and Kal Penn. "The Art of the Fart" provides about ten minutes on the film's sound engineering. "Cast and Crew: Drive-through Bites" comprises about twenty minutes of cast comments. And "A Trip to the Land of Burgers" is a ten-minute segment on the film's animated sequence. After those are eight deleted and extended scenes plus outtakes, totalling a little over fourteen minutes. Then, there's a music video, "All Too Much" with Yeah; and a section on John Cho and Kal Penn's induction into the White Castle Craver's Hall of Fame.
Things finish up with eighteen scene selections but no chapter insert; peeks at "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay"; a pair of theatrical trailers; English as the only spoken language; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
On top of all that, the package includes a second disc with a standard-definition digital copy of the movie for use on a PC.
I agree with Tim that the film could have done without so much "potty humor." Frankly, "Harold & Kumar" might have been a lot more worthy of repeat viewing if it hadn't pandered to the lowest common denominator in trying so desperately to be funny. Still, the film possesses an affectionate appeal, and its stabs at deflating clichés and stereotypes are steps toward seriously decreasing people's oversimplified notions about their fellow human beings.
"The Universe tends to unfold as it should."