It’s been years since the last time we’ve seen the two heroes of the stoner comedy A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. They’ve gone their separate ways, the same way that people in their twenties turn into different people in their thirties. Harold (John Cho), who has quit weed, now makes the working class angry because he’s a head honcho of a New York-based technology entertainment company. A scene involves him in the streets sliding across cars and cabs’ hoods, Dukes of Hazzard-style. There are protesters in his office building’s entrance seem shockingly timely and we’re possibly wondering how a movie that wrapped filming before March predict Occupy Wall Street, the same way Tower Heist kinda did? It seems like the logical conclusion that the collective proletarian angst would lead to this.
Harold escapes with his new best friend Todd’s (Thomas Lennon) van, heading for his over-decorated suburban New Jersey home. Unfortunately his wife’s father Mr. Perez (Danny Trejo) visits them. The latter, orphaned when a Korean gang murders his mother Christmases past, takes the holiday spirit too seriously.
On the other hand, Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) is still the medical school drop out who gets his weed from a Mall Santa (Patton Oswalt) He litters his apartment with laundry and pizza boxes, stuck on his couch watching infomercials about anthropomorphic household appliances like the WaffleBot, which is important because he befriends one later in the movie. His ex-girlfriend drops by to get a few more of her possessions and to tell him that she’s pregnant but all he can say – and Penn’s frustrating monotone delivery begins here – is “I’m so stoned.”
Kumar finds a package in front of his apartment door that’s supposed to be for Harold. He drives all the way to Harold’s, inadvertently burns down his ex-BFF’s Christmas tree. Both reluctantly try to find a pine tree to make Harold’s Christmas perfect, a journey that involves a lot of shenanigans and mercurial bickering. After jumping on hurdles to get along, something would drive them apart, giving Kumar a chance to say something like “You used to be cool” while Harold would retort with variations of “Grow up.” For ninety minutes.
This movie is in 3D, as one of Harold’s employees Kenneth Park (Bobby Lee) likes to remind the audience with a wink, breaking the movie’s cheap fourth wall. Like a lot of slapstick 3D fare, there is more attention paid to the projectiles coming at you than to the background. A lot of objects are thrust onto us: Matrix-style eggs flying from the protesters’ angry hands, suspended in the air until they land on Kenneth’s body; Christmas trees and large traffic cones violently thrown towards the breaking camera lens; a high-angle view of the baby Jesus flying towards us and back on his straw cradle; Kumar and Harold’s phalluses, the former in clay animation, the latter an elastic prosthetic one that gets stuck on a pole because penises are supposed to be funny, am I right? It’s like every third installment of a franchise has to be in 3D, making me less convinced that the new format has any artistic value.
Both Harold and Kumar’s girlfriends are arguably domesticated sexual conquests. The men go out on their journey because of them, innately searching for their approval and satisfaction that they don’t necessarily earn throughout the movie. The tension in Harold’s household is really between and Mr. Perez, both using Maria as territory instead of as a person. There are also characters like Todd’s baby named Ava, a minor who can’t lose her virginity because she’s the daughter of a Slavic gangster named Sergei Katsov (Elias Koteas) and desperately wants to do so. The secondary status of female characters is such a common grievance in male-driven comedies that we should always notice it but it’s no longer worth the regular coronary.
There are also women flanking Neil Patrick Harris,the Sigourney Weaver of this series of movies. As usual he plays a fictionalized version of himself, hilariously pissing off Jesus and when he tells our heroes how he’s survived getting shot in a little whorehouse in Texas. Reincarnated as a Broadway dancer in this installment, it’s ironic that he is as convincing with heterosexual characters, lifting the veil oppressively set upon LGBT actors who are ghettoized for not playing it “straight” enough. But it’s equally insulting that he plays a homophobe who has to drag a poseur husband (played by NPH’s real husband David Burtka) into the mix and rapes ones of his female Broadway coworkers for laughs.
Their journey to find the perfect Christmas tree also involves meeting old Jewish high school friends (including David Krumholtz), a baby who is on three different drugs, a real Santa Claus, Harold’s rediscovery of the Wu-Tang Clan, and many other things. We can blame the movie for being too esoteric in its tone and humor to reintroduce itself to audiences who haven’t seen earlier movies from the franchise. But even with the movie’s sparks of adulthood, the laugh-worthy A Christmas Story references and the re-establishment of a precarious friendship, it’s still difficult to relate to this movie. And I would like to tell the WaffleBot that pancakes rule.