A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Screenplay by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Kal Penn as Kumar
John Cho as Harold
Neil Patrick Harris as himself
How long is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas? 90 minutes.
What is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas rated? R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.
‘Harold and Kumar’ Tries for Christmas Green
Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of the post-Avatar 3D revolution. Also admittedly, I have not seen any kids movies or cartoons in 3D, so I don’t know the impact of the style on The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl, Puss In Boots, The Smurfs, or Despicable Me. However, I found the use of the gimmick on Captain America: The First Avenger, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part II to be lacklustre at best (though I know at least two of those were converted after the fact). That’s why I was surprised by how much I liked the 3D in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Without wanting to sound like I’m aiming for a quote on a commercial, it actually featured the best 3D I’ve seen since, well, Avatar — both in use and in look.
Unlike a lot of films that co-opt 3D solely for financial gain, VHK3C understands that paying extra for the 3D ticket should offer something unique to the theatergoing experience. It’s not just about making backgrounds looking further away (that, from my experience, only Avatar pulled off successfully), but also about expanding the foreground. In this film, smoke, car parts, and eggshells go into the audience while stylized flashback sequences actually do gain more depth because of the glasses.
Another reason why the 3D in VHK3C works is because the film itself is very bright and colorful, as opposed to grey with saturated colors like the aforementioned three films, so dark lenses do not take away from the look of the film; every scene maintains its clarity. While the 3D isn’t used/noticeable most of the time, VHK3C uses it just enough and uses it well enough to warrant paying the heightened price.
But enough about the 3D, what about the movie?
As the film begins, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have been separated for several years. Harold, now a hotshot Wall Street executive, must deal with protestors (a prescient moment for the filmmakers), has married Maria (Paula Garces, in her third appearance in the series), quit smoking, moved to the suburbs, and wants nothing to do with the destruction that follows Kumar. Kumar, alternatively, has become an unemployed derelict. Still living in the apartment the two leads shared in the first film, Kumar prefers to smoke at every possible moment due to being stuck in the midst of a major depression after losing his job and his girlfriend from the second installment (Vanessa (Danneel Harris)). The movie, thankfully, does not make it into a “message,” but the subtext is there.
The two have moved on with their lives to varying extents and they’ve even replaced one another with square Todd (The State’s Thomas Lennon) and dorky loser Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld), respectively. But, on one fateful Christmas Eve, a package arrives at Kumar’s door for Harold. He brings it to his former friend’s house and inside contains an enormous joint. Kumar lights it, Harold throws it out the window, and fate boomerangs it back inside to set Maria’s impossible-to-please father’s (Danny Trejo doing his regular thing) prize Christmas tree on fire. This sets up the plot that involves Harold and Kumar (with Adrian, Todd, and Todd’s young daughter in tow) trying to obtain a Christmas tree by 2 am and getting caught up with a crime lord (an unfortunately underused Elias Koteas), Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris, who does not overstay his welcome like in the second film), and Santa Claus (Richard Riehle).
Overall, VHK3C is a marked improvement over the ham-handed commentary of Guantanamo Bay, but it does not reach the heights of White Castle. Series creators and returning writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg take a bit too long to get the characters to the adventure part of the film, which is a problem in a movie that lasts only 90 minutes. The comedic set pieces often seem rushed, and they don’t build up or settle as they should. For example, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community featured better and more involving claymation sequences. Even with mob assassins aiming to kill Harold and Kumar, there is very little sense of danger driving the characters. Sure, we know they will end up okay, but the affair is too easygoing and wastes the potential. (Although I know the eventual unrated DVD/Blu-ray will contain extra footage, hopefully it’s an extra 10-20 minutes and not an additional 5 lines.)
However, despite those complaints, VHK3C is a very pleasant film, and that’s what differentiates it from the recent rash of R-rated comedies. Whether we’re talking about the dramedic heart of Apatow style films or the edge of the descendants of The Hangover, very few of those movies seem to want to provide the audience with a flat-out good time devoid of cynicism, and that’s the greatest offering from this third part of the stoner trilogy. Even a penis freezing to a pole A Christmas Story-style and a toddler taking drugs are (again, thankfully) treated as silly things that happen and not cheap attempts at shock humor.
More enjoyable than laugh-out-loud funny, the movie benefits from lacking the impersonal quality present in so many modern comedies. We’re watching Harold, Kumar, and Neil not John, Kal, and Neil or Bradley, Zack, and Ed. The characters are comfortable with one another; the actors play off one another well; and the movie comes across as one that wanted to exist, not one that had to. Although not in the same class as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Bad Santa, VHK3C nevertheless succeeds in making its Christmas movie about the spirit of the season.
One final note, the scene-stealer in this film was not NPH but Wafflebot. The most popular Christmas toy on the market, Wafflebot is a robot that makes waffles. And he also plays into my enjoyment of old school robots, such as VINCENT from The Black Hole (still as lifelike as most any CGI character I’ve ever seen) and Homer’s unfinished robot from The Simpsons‘ “Homer the Moe” (“Father, give me legs.”).
Wafflebot has the classic robot voice, an AI-level ability to converse, a devotion to its master, and a willingness to fight to the death. Seeing it following Harold and Kumar in the background and Kumar treating it like a real person turns it from a prop into an actual character that happens to be an incredibly cool robot.