Warner Bros. // 2004 // 88 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 4th, 2008
Fast Food. High Times.
I never smoked weed in college, but I was often designated driver for my more impaired cohorts (friends, acquaintances, roommates) when they needed their munchie fix. I've been party to the 4AM purchase of five bags of mini-Snickers at Wal-mart, a midnight raid on Dunkin' Donuts that saw us carry away three large (I'm talking 40+) boxes of donut holes, and I've seen the glazed look that comes over a stoner's face when you mention mini-cheeseburgers. In our neck of the woods it was Krystal, not White Castle, but it was still a Mecca for the discerning weed smoker. Being so familiar with the weird looks and bizarre cravings that occur around the stoner population after dark, I was looking forward to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Although it was ultimately disappointing, fans of the film are sure to love this Blu-ray disc.
Harold Lee (John Cho, American Pie) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn, Van Wilder) are post-college slackers who spend an inordinate amount of time getting stoned. On the night our story takes place, Kumar has scored some particularly good weed and the two get totally stoned. They then decide that the only food that will satisfy them is the cheeseburgers at the famed White Castle. Of course, feeding a craving like this one isn't so simple, and their quest will take them on a night long odyssey where they will encounter attractive British girls, a cheetah, and Neil Patrick Harris (playing Neil Patrick Harris).
I really wanted to like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. I knew to expect slightly silly stoner comedy, but somehow I just didn't find the film funny. I don't mind vulgarity, non-sequiturs, and racial humor, but none of the jokes really connected for me. On the page I'm sure the various situation seemed hilarious, but onscreen they just fell flat. For instance, the "extreme guys" were ripe for parody, and their kayaking stunt seems like it should have worked, but their continual reappearance made them annoying instead of funny. Also, things like the two hot girls who have explosive diarrhea sounds like a good idea, setting up the two horny protagonists for some disappointment, but the execution just seems off, like the director didn't know what to do with the material.
Considering I didn't really laugh during the film, I should probably dislike Harold and Kumar more than I do. However, for some reason I found the film charming despite its lack of funny. Part of the reason for my enjoyment is the film's innocence. So many comedies these days (I'm looking at you Judd Apatow) have a rough edge, like teenagers trying to play as adults. In contrast, Harold and Kumar plays like teenagers being teenagers, from the boys' shyness to their wide-eyed simplicity in the face of the horrors of things like the racism of the jailhouse. While the film occasionally goes for the gross out, it never feels like the movie lingers leaving the bad taste that other comedies do.
Another mark in the film's favor is the presence of the two leads. They manage to be believably befuddled while never tipping over into true stupidity. The fact that both actors could make it seems as if their characters have actually grown throughout their night is a testament to their talent. In addition to Cho and Penn, the rest of the cast takes to their roles with gusto. Neil Patrick Harris is certainly the highlight of the latter half of the film, but he's joined by other actors like David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas (as the stoner pair Goldstein and Rosenberg) who keep the film on track.
I also appreciated the film's complete willingness to commit to the surreal nature of the script. Whether it was Kumar saving a gunshot victim in the ER or the pair riding a cheetah in the woods, the film didn't shy away from abandoning the rules of consensual reality. Genuine surrealism is sadly lacking in cinema today, and Harold and Kumar deserves some kudos for bringing a hint of it to the screen.
Fans are in for a treat with this Blu-ray release of the previous "Extreme Unrated" edition of the film. The film is presented in a clean 1.85:1 transfer that is pretty strong on colors and black levels. The whole film could do with some sharpening, but for a stoner-comedy, the video will leave most people happy. The audio is also strong, with the dialogue clear and the film's music and effects well balanced.
All the extras from the DVD are here, and they continue in the film's comedic vein. First up are three commentaries. The one featuring Penn and Cho is the highlight, with the two goofing on their roles in the film. The writer's commentary is full of production insights, while the "extreme" commentary is left to the die-hard fans (or the truly stoned). We also get an interview with Penn and Cho in the backseat of a car being driven by Bobby Lee. None of them take it seriously, and they spend most of their time insulting one another. It's good fun. There are also various featurettes (including the lovingly titled "The Art of the Fart") that follow the production behind the scenes. My favorite part of the extras were the red band trailers for Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. By compressing all the films' better moments into a few minutes, the trailers made me laugh more than the film.
I admit that I watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle sober and alone. I suspect that the film's charms (including its more juvenile jokes) would be significantly amplified by friends and an alteration of blood chemistry.
As a comedy, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle didn't do much for me. However, despite the dearth of laughs I found the film a harmless waste of time that had a few worthy charms. Since the only new addition to this disc that isn't on the DVD are a few promos for the sequel, fans will have to decide if the upgraded audiovisual presentation is worth the extra bucks. Fans who've yet to purchase an edition of the movie should obviously go with this one.
Harold and Kumar are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 6.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary with Director Danny Leiner and Actors John Cho and Kal Penn
* Audio Commentary with Writers Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
* "Extreme" Commentary with Danny Bouchard
* John Cho and Kal Penn: The Back Seat Interview
* "The Art of the Fart"
* "Cast and Crew: Drive-Thru Bites"
* "A Trip to the Land of Burgers"
* "Deleted/Alternate Scenes"
* "All Too Much" Music Video
* John Cho & Kal Penn's Induction Into the White Castle Craver's Hall of Fame
* Harold and Kumar 2 Red Band Trailer
* Harold and Kumar 2 Sneak Peek
* Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle Trailer
* Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle Red Band Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review