First, we watched the boys go to White Castle, and later we saw them escape from Guantanamo Bay. Now, we’re treated to their madcap escapades around the holidays. “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” from 2011 is more of the same, except that their names no longer start the movie title. I guess “Harold & Kumar Wreak Havoc During the Holiday Season and Gross Out Everybody on Christmas Eve” was a little much. It’s also the first Harold & Kumar film shot in 3-D, so you may have seen it (or seen it advertised) as “A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas.” OK, the film does find the fellows a touch softer and sweeter than before, with a charmingly sentimental ending. But the script dispenses with their more lovable dispositions for even raunchier gags. The viewer can hardly win, but as long as the “H&K” movies make a few bucks, I suppose we’ll be seeing more of them in the same kind of crude antics.
For a lot of people, one of the big draws of the Harold & Kumar films (well, at least for me) is the presence of its two stars. John Cho as Harold you may know as Demetri Noh in the TV series “FlashForward” or as Mr. Sulu in the J.J. Abrams reboot of “Star Trek.” Kal Penn as Kumar you may recognize from his long-running roles as Dr. Kutner in TV’s “House” or as Kevin in “How I Met Your Mother.” Both fellows seem personable and, much as their Harold and Kumar characters, likeable, going a long way toward making the “Harold & Kumar” stories halfway bearable, especially this one.
As the movie opens, two years have passed since Harold and Kumar have seen each other. Harold, the more conservative and sensible of the two, has become even more conservative and sensible than ever, now a Wall Street executive, married, and living in a perfect white house in a perfect suburban neighborhood. Meanwhile, Kumar, the goofier of the two, is a bigger doper than ever, living with a roommate in a tiny flat in the city, smoking more weed than ever. To complicate matters, Kumar’s girlfriend has just told him she’s pregnant.
It’s Christmas time, and Harold’s father-in-law and family are coming to visit. When the father-in-law arrives, he is shocked to see that Harold has a fake Christmas tree in his living room, so he gives him a real one that he has grown himself, a magnificent, perfectly groomed, twelve-foot tree. All is well until Kumar shows up to deliver a package for Harold that somebody delivered to Kumar’s place. Remember, the fellows haven’t seen each other for two years, yet, inadvertently, they manage to burn down the new Christmas tree within moments of Kumar’s arrival. The plot involves their frantic attempts at trying to replace the tree on Christmas Eve before the father-in-law finds out what happened. Their comic misadventures take them from the suburbs to the city and everywhere in between.
The film leans as heavily on the supporting cast as it does on the stars. In its most brilliant piece of typecasting, Danny Trejo plays Harold’s father-in-law. Now, if for some unfathomable reason you don’t know who Danny Trejo is, he’s the former drug addict, criminal, convict, and boxer turned actor, playing a succession of tough guys in about 800 movies a year from the mid Eighties on. As his face became more familiar to moviegoers, he began capitalizing on his tough-guy image, moving into bigger, more-mainstream parts (“Heat,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Grindhouse,” “Machete”), even softening his persona for the “Spy Kids” series. Now, he plays mostly good guys and antiheroes. You can see just by his face that he’s not a character you want mad at you, especially not a character Harold wants mad at him. So you understand the absolute necessity for Harold (and Kumar) to find a replacement tree. Trejo’s part in the proceedings is small, but it’s essential, and his scenes are among the best in the movie.
Tom Lennon plays Harold’s best friend Todd, an even more-conservative fellow than Harold, who, with a baby in tow, frowns on the boys’ language as he tries to help them find a tree. Amir Blomenfeld plays Kumar’s best friend and roommate Adrian, an even bigger goofus than Kumar, who also tries helping the boys in their search. Elias Koteas plays a Ukrainian mob boss whom the heroes upset; Paula Garcés plays Harold’s wife; Danneel Harris Ackles returns as Kumar’s girlfriend; and in his usual guest appearance Neil Patrick Harris plays himself (well, OK, a wildly fictionalized self), this time spoofing his being openly gay. Nevertheless, a WaffleBot steals the show. (Don’t ask.)
So far, so good. It’s the script that gets in the way, a script all about drugs, profanity, raunch, and sex, starting with a department-store Santa who sells Kumar a bag of pot. Before it’s two minutes in, the film begins feeling like an old “Cheech & Chong” flick on steroids. (Cheech & Chong are no doubt the inspirations for the Harold & Kumar movies, so you get the idea.) Worse, because the studio originally shot “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” in 3-D, we get a lot of silly 3-D effects in it, some of them intentionally corny, parodying the whole 3-D phenomenon, and some of them just annoying.
“A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” will appeal to audiences who enjoy watching pee jokes, poo gags, comic gangsters shooting people, and babies getting high. While I admit there are more laughs in the movie than in previous “Harold & Kumar” vehicles and a sweeter, more-moving ending, you have to put up with a lot of idiotic nonsense along the way. Whether it’s worth it to you or not may depend upon how devoted a Harold & Kumar fan you are.
The New Line video engineers present the film on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 for both a theatrical edition (ninety minutes) and an extended cut (ninety-six minutes) using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC encode. The results are OK, if a little underwhelming. There is decent but not extraordinary definition involved, the PQ a little rough around the edges. Colors look bright enough, although they are also sometimes a tad too dark or murky. And there are some instances of shimmering lines here and there.
On the theatrical cut you get lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. On the extended cut, which you most likely will want to watch, you get only lossy Dolby Digital 5.1. The lossless track, to which I listened briefly, offers good directionality in the surrounds; a clear, clean midrange; fairly loud mid-bass; and an excellent dynamic impact. The Dolby Digital, to which I mainly listened because I watched the extended edition, sounded pretty good, too. No complaints here.
This is maybe the first time I’ve noticed New Line or Warner Bros. offering a single, double-sided disc for a Blu-ray and DVD. Side one of the “Extra Dope Edition” Blu-ray Combo Pack contains both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film in high definition. In addition, it has two featurettes. The first is “Through the Haze with Tom Lennon,” which is made up of six separate segments with the actor/writer chatting on the set. For reasons unknown, there is no “Play All” button; the segments are one or two minutes each, and you have to click through each of them individually. The other featurette is “Bringing Harold & Kumar Claymation to Life,” about three minutes on the claymation sequence in the picture.
Then, we get three deleted scenes (for a total of about four minutes); BD-Live access; an oddly limited nine scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages on the theatrical edition; English-only on the extended cut; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The reverse side of the disc contains a DVD of the movie and an UltraViolet Digital Copy, which you can stream or permanently download. (Note that you have to enter your redemption code by February 7, 2014 to redeem the digital copy offer.) The disc comes housed in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover.
For me, this was the best “Harold & Kumar” film yet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say enough because the film still comes off as too juvenile in its humor to have pleased this adult for very long. Admittedly, the film has more laughs in it that the previous two “H&K” movies; now, if only the writers could find a way to be funny and at least a touch witty without the infantile vulgarity, they might be onto something. Certainly, they’ve got a couple of fine stars in the leads.