The original Harold and Kumar (Go to White Castle) was a crazy one-shot comedy that seemed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at audiences in an effort to elicit a laugh. There were strippers, poop games, a raccoon, and even a misogynistic version of Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, before his return to the spotlight.
The film’s followup, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, relied heavily on retooled versions of prior gags, but went on to gross twice as much as its predecessor, which easily paved the way for the third installment, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Is 3D Christmas a lackluster franchise cash-grab? Or like this year’s Final Destination 5, does the film make creative use of its 3D gimmick and offer a tongue-in-cheek comedy experience.
Unfortunately, for the majority of the film, the 3D gags are nonexistent – although the Christmas story backdrop definitely provides plenty of entertaining counter-programming for the upcoming holiday season. There are a number of amusing variations on iconic holiday movies staples – such as the frozen tongue scene in A Christmas Story - but, in spite of all the winter movie spoofing, it’s unlikely that A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas will find a longterm spot in the holiday classic echelon.
The Harold and Kumar stories aren’t as serialized as similar raunchy comedy offerings, such as The Hangover or American Pie series. At its core, 3D Christmas is mostly a holiday film parody that happens to star Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) and, as a result, filmgoers won’t need prior backstory to enjoy the proceedings. That said, there are plenty of call backs for dedicated fans of the franchise.
The basic story occurs six years after the events of Escape from Guantanamo Bay and finds the titular pair estranged (due to different life choices) until they are inevitably forced into the wilds of New York City to find a Christmas tree worthy of Harold’s father in law, Mr. Perez (Danny Trejo). Along the way, they stumble into another over-the-top adventure, and also reunite with franchise-friend Neil Patrick Harris.
Like any holiday spoof, the plot is simple enough and progresses for no other purpose than to take the pair into one over-the-top scenario after another. However, in spite of all the crazy antics, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is too often bogged down with overly-sentimental drama between the two main characters. While there are a few humorous moments in the first act, the film spends a lot of time upfront playing up the tattered relationship between Harold and Kumar – and it isn’t until the second act that the jokes find their footing.
This strained relationship between the two protagonists is only the first indicator that the film is juggling too much; what we ultimately get is a mixed bag of comedy moments juxtaposed against larger (and more mature) storylines. In A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas poop jokes and pregnancy co-exist on the same level – but the sentimental aspects and the comedy gags both land too close to the middle and never find a balance between funny and meaningful. Some moviegoers will defend the film by saying “This is Harold and Kumar - it’s not supposed to be meaningful!” but someone should have mentioned that to the filmmakers – since the movie wastes a lot of time on uninteresting (and unfunny) character drama.
That said, moment to moment some of the comedy set pieces and call backs do offer some genuinely funny (and possibly laugh out loud) moments – even if they are surrounded by less interesting padding. Thomas Lennon plays Harold’s uptight suburban friend, Todd, who is really only in the film so that his three-year-old daughter, Ava (Ashley and Chloe Coss), can get a secondhand high and have cocaine blown in her face. Ava may be the most humorous addition to the proceedings – and not just because of the “wow, they went there” reaction filmgoers will have to her. Ashley and Chloe’s combined effort is, surprisingly, one of the most entertaining performances in the film.
Adding to the glut of storylines, there are a number of franchise call backs shoe-horned into the proceedings – such as appearances by Neil Patrick Harris, Rosenberg (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Goldstein (David Krumholtz) – which are entirely hit or miss. Unsurprisingly, Harris elevates the film with a number of tongue-in-cheek gags about his sexuality and larger-than-life persona – as well as a few fourth-wall nods to the overarching Harold and Kumar franchise. Unfortunately, the Rosenberg and Goldstein sequence is near cringe-worthy, and a further example that, in the process of attempting to grow up (while staying true to its roots), the film simply bit off more than it could chew.
As for the 3D – unlike the aforementioned Final Destination 5, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas rarely makes worthwhile use out of the format. Despite a number of tongue-in-cheek references to 3D, the film abandons creative (i.e. over-the-top) use of the medium after the first fifteen minutes. For the remaining run time, the 3D is mostly relegated to confetti poppers and shooting various liquids at the screen in slow motion. Anyone who sees the movie in 2D will no doubt notice where they’re missing a 3D gag, but it’s hard to imagine that the added benefit is actually worth the price.
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas definitely offers over-the-top counter-programming for the holiday season (which will be dominated by sappy titles like New Years Eve). That said, the film falls short of being a holiday classic or an enjoyable 3D experience – meaning, in the end, it’s little more than another Harold and Kumar film. It may not be the next Christmas Vacation, but anyone who enjoyed the prior films (especially the first one), and moviegoers looking for an irreverent Christmas offering, will all likely find something to be jolly about.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.