Here is once again another example of a great franchise (yes, the Harold & Kumar franchise is great) ruined by the insistence that it needed one more sequel… even worse a Christmas Special. The previous installments drew their strengths for being desire-driven comedies. In the first movie Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) had the munchies and they desired White Castle sliders; in the second movie they wanted to get to Amsterdam; both times, their weed induced trips and NPH (Neil Patrick Harris) got in the way. This time what they need is a Christmas tree, they are surprisingly sober most of the movie, and NPH actually saves the day (sort of). Is it just me, or are the stakes not high enough this time (no pun intended)?
Although the second movie came out in 2008, it took place in 2004 immediately after the first one; this film takes place in the present, seven years after Harold and Kumar escaped Guantanamo Bay. In the mean time, Harold has become a successful Wall Street trader married Maria (Paula Garcés) and moved to the suburbs, while Kumar has failed med school, still lives in the same apartment, remains a stoner and has recently broken up with Vanessa (Danneel Harris). To make matters worse, their opposing lifestyles have also created a rift in their friendship.
On Christmas Eve, a mysterious box is delivered for Harold at Kumar’s apartment; it presents the perfect excuse for our favorite stoner to visit his favorite stockbroker. The package contains a joint of Santa’s own batch; Harold throws it out the window (there is no smoking in his new home) but it blows back in and burns down his Father-in-law’s (Danny Terjo) perfect Christmas tree. Harold blames Kumar; Kumar tries to fix it; Russian gangsters get in their way; there is some clay-mation; and Neil Patrick Harris now has a Broadway show.
We saw all this in the first two movies. Despite the fact that it had a significantly greater budget, and was film in 3D, this did not play like a Harold and Kumar movie but like a poor man’s Harold and Kumar. It just wasn’t enough.
The first movie was remarkable because of its spontaneity; it is very likely the film was conceived and filmed while the writers, crew and cast were all sharing a bong. The second film upped the stakes, polished the comedy, and brought closure to the characters by sending them to weed heaven with two lovely ladies.
This movie feels tired. And perhaps it is because Harold and Kumar were characters of the last decade, aptly created to comment on the rampant xenophobia of the Bush years. But now there is a black POTUS; Europe has fallen apart; Islamists have gone democratic; China now rivals the US in box office revenue; and Russia has refused to follow the world in setting their clock on hour for daylight savings. Times have changed.