Judge Clark Douglas could use some Doritos right about now.
Our reviews of Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Blu-Ray) (published August 4th, 2008), Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: Two-Disc Special Edition (published August 6th, 2008), Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle (Blu-Ray) (published August 4th, 2008), Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle: Extreme Unrated Edition (published January 24th, 2005), and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (Blu-ray) (published February 7th, 2012) are also available.
Fast food. High times.
"See you guys in the fourth one."
Facts of the Case
Harold Lee (John Cho, Star Trek) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn, House, M.D.) are wildly different in most ways. The former is a responsible, ambitious businessman while the latter is a slovenly mess. Even so, the longtime friends are united by a deep and abiding affection for weed. After an evening of engaging in their favorite pastime, Harold and Kumar determine that nothing would hit the spot quite like some White Castle hamburgers. So begins an epic journey fraught with vile truckers, deadly cheetahs, racist cops and Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself) as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle!
In Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, a trip to Amsterdam is derailed by some overeager members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Can the guys escape from the high-security Gitmo facility, evade the Feds and clear their names? Whatever happens, you can be sure that Neil Patrick Harris will get involved at some point.
A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas jumps forward several years. The guys are no longer close friends and rarely see each other. Thankfully, a series of exceptionally contrived circumstances pushes them back into each other's orbit once again, leading them on a drug-fueled search for an epic Christmas tree. Along the way, they'll encounter a violent gangster (Elias Koteas, Let Me In), a cocaine-addicted baby, a killer snowman and the ever-mysterious Neil Patrick Harris.
Since the release of the 2004 stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, John Cho and Kal Penn have successfully established themselves as the Cheech and Chong of the 21st Century. As in the case of that beloved duo, the image of Harold and Kumar stands a little taller than the actual films they're involved in. Objectively, most of the Cheech and Chong flicks really aren't that great, but the playful comic energy of the guys at the core of those films allows us to remember them more fondly than we really ought to. Similarly, I have a soft spot for all of the Harold and Kumar films despite the fact that actually watching those movies reminds me that they aren't anything special.
The first film remains the best due to its unwavering commitment to its enchantingly low-stakes premise. There's nothing in the world Harold and Kumar want more than to sink their teeth into a pile of White Castle hamburgers, and the film has fun detailing the absurd lengths they're willing to go to in order to achieve their simple goal. The Neil Patrick Harris scenes in particular are a kick, and not because it's a well-known celebrity depicting himself as a completely scoundrel (which honestly isn't a particularly unique idea these days) but because Harris demonstrates such pitch-perfect comic instincts. The film is cheerfully goofy (never more so than when Harold and Kumar take a ride on the back of a pot-smoking cheetah) and likable in spite of its penchant for extreme gross-out humor (my least favorite aspect of the series). Somehow, the burger-filled climax is an inexplicably joyful moment.
Things start going off the rails with Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, as the film quickly drops the whole "stoner movie" angle and simple becomes a series of frantic, politically-charged events. The film can't decide whether it wants to be another madcap adventure in the vein of the first film or a particularly expensive, preposterous filmed segment of The Daily Show, and the tonal disconnect gets frustrating after a while. There are plenty of fun little moments, but the political commentary doesn't really stick (not even an extended visit with a pot-loving George W. Bush). It's more ambitious most films of its sort, but it misses as often as it hits.
Things are simultaneously better and worse in A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas. On the negative side, the film descends into a level of goofiness that practically makes the first film look like a Ken Loach docudrama. However, it makes a valiant effort at returning the series to its stoner roots and gleefully satirizes the "Hey, it's coming at you!" gimmickry of 3D movies (a point made so blatantly that it even manages to stick when you're viewing the film in 2D). Penn and Cho are still a pleasure and the now-obligatory NPH sequence is once again a high point of the film, but it's easy to see that the series feels a bit more forced than it used to. The laughs are fewer and further between than they are in the other films, as the movie leans more heavily on shock value (a wildly violent stop-motion sequence, a baby on cocaine, people flinging feces) than it does on well-constructed jokes.
All three discs featured in the Harold and Kumar: Highly Flammable Collection (Blu-ray) are simply repackaged versions of the previously released Blu-ray sets, so don't expect anything new in terms of video, audio or extras. All three movies have been individually reviewed on this site, so I'll direct you to those reviews for more detailed info on that stuff (in short: they all look and sound fine, though the first two movies deliver a lot more in the supplemental department than A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas does). However, the set does have some external goodies to offer: some White Castle-scented drink coasters and car fresheners. All of this stuff is housed inside an amusingly-designed tin case, which isn't quite as sturdy as I would like but which looks nice nonetheless. It's one of the smelliest Blu-ray sets I've encountered, but I suppose that's to be expected.
I won't make any grand claims about the Harold and Kumar series being particularly great or important, but I always enjoy spending some time with these guys even if the films they appear in increasingly leave something to be desired. The new stuff isn't substantial enough to warrant an upgrade, but it's a good option for those who don't own any of the films.
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