- There are the gags that deliberately play up ethnic stereotypes
- The subtler joke being that Harold and Kumar's own ethnicity is invisible
- The ex-best friends are reunited in a typically quixotic quest
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Then you're in for a rude awakening.
The only thing white about this riotously multiethnic black comedy is the blizzard of cocaine that flies through the air as Bing Crosby croons his yuletide standard at an out of control Christmas Eve party.
If I said the latest sortie from cultural subversives Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) has something to offend everyone, I'd probably be over-estimating the sensitivities of at least some of the 17.4 million Americans who are estimated to use marijuana at least once a month.
Still, I imagine that the running gag about an infant inadvertently exposed to pot, coke and ecstasy might strike some people as pretty near the knuckle. Others will choke when the always game Neil Patrick Harris -- playing himself -- explains his miraculous resurrection with reference to a run-in with Jesus, who didn't take kindly to Harris making out with His groupies.
Then there are the gags -- good, bad and indifferent - that deliberately play up ethnic stereotypes: jailbird Latinos, gangsta African-Americans, tight-fisted Jews, bloodthirsty Slavs, square and boring WASPS. The subtler joke being that Harold and Kumar's own ethnicity is invisible -- except to the occasional bigots they encounter. ("Sorry, I don't date black guys," says the Ukrainian virgin, Mary, as she rejects Kumar in favor of Korean-American Harold.)
You want a plot? It's set six years after the boys escaped from Guantanamo. Harold is now a successful Wall Street executive, married, clean and sober. He's washed his hands of Kumar, who's still a bonafide pothead and no further along in life than he ever was. But the ex-best friends are reunited in a typically quixotic quest to get their hands on a 12-foot Christmas tree before Midnight Mass comes out.
Maybe the movie does pander to a certain slacker sexism -- but even that's tempered by an eye-watering item when one of the boys gets stuck to an icy pole, "A Christmas Story"-style (only it's not his tongue that's stuck). That's male bonding of an especially painful kind -- and marks the natural culmination for a buddy dynamic that's deeply engrained in our movies, from Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis, Cheech and Chong, and Bill and Ted all the way to "Dumb & Dumber." It's a tradition that Cho and Penn sustain with as much charm as circumstances allow.
In a week when a French satirical magazine was firebombed for publishing an issue guest-edited by the prophet Mohammed (or so they claimed), there is definitely something to be said for a movie that takes a blowtorch to political correctness and even puts a bullet in the head of old Saint Nick. By offending everyone, the theory goes, no one needs be offended.
It's a patchy affair, these things almost always are, but a commendably trim 90-minute running time keeps things hopping. The film hits an early high with a series of inspired gags breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at its own 3D gimmickry.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson throws in a horrific claymation fantasy, doffs his cap at Busby Berkeley and shoots an egg-throwing sequence as if he's John Woo, just because he can. The yolks on us, I guess. At regular intervals he sends clouds of pot wafting towards the audience. You don't need to be an expert in smoke signals to catch the drift: Lighten up, America.