Review: 'Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas' is a Twist on Familiar Formula
by Jeremy Kirk
November 4, 2011
It isn't lost that a review of a Harold & Kumar movie is something of a moot point. It's a franchise that has a built-in audience, and many who aren't already on board probably won't be joining in thanks to a little added, holiday cheer and the razzle dazzle of 3D effects. On the surface, it would boil down to one question. Is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas more of the same? The answer isn't so simple, though. Yes, the jokes are still there. Yes, it still throws in the subversion of its main characters partaking gladly in illegal substances. Yes, Neil Patrick Harris is the same creepy crackhead with misogynistic tendencies.
But there's also more to A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas than just the same gags we've seen before. Returning screenwriters and franchise creators Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, and new director Todd Strauss-Schulson have a few tricks up their sleeves. So much so, in fact, that what could have easily been a quick money-grab, a way of throwing out the same jokes with the same characters and expecting the same financial results—we're looking at you The Hangover" Part II—ends up being something fresh, something festive, and, yes, something fitfully funny.
Set years after Harold and Kumar have escaped from Guantanamo Bay, the film opens with the two apart. Harold, played again by John Cho, is a successful businessman in New York City, preparing for a family Christmas with his wife and in-laws. He is terrified of his father-in-law, played by Danny Trejo, a man who believes the Christmas tree is the most important element of the season, and it is up to Harold to decorate their tree to perfection.
Meanwhile, Kumar, played by Kal Penn, is just getting by, living in a shoddy apartment and smoking his aspirations away. After receiving a mysterious package addressed to Harold, Kumar visits his old friend, things get out of hand quickly, and the wondrous tree Harold's father-in-law has brought with him is left burnt to cinders. So begins a wild night of the two traveling around the city trying to find the perfect replacement and, of course, getting into wacky adventures all along the way.
Some of those adventures look quite similar to what we've seen Harold and Kumar get themselves into and out of in the past. They cross a Russian mobster, crash a Christmas Eve party loaded with a wide assortment of teens and drugs, and stumble upon NPH who is the lead in a Christmas musical. But it's the details in all these scenarios, the actual jokes Hurwitz & Schlossberg use to piece each scene together. The comedy in 3D Christmas is fast-paced and pretty much on the mark through and through. There's even a new robotic friend the two stumble across, WaffleBot, that becomes a new iconic character of the series. The WaffleBot is brought to magical life by KNB, and if it ever becomes mass produced, it will sell like… well, hotcakes doesn't seem the appropriate analogy here. It will sell really well. Let's just put it like that.
And that's besides the self-referentialism this third film seems to wear like a finely pressed Santa suit, even more so than having Harris play himself once again. The Harold & Kumar movies have never taken themselves seriously. Not for a moment, but the level of fourth-wall-breaking going on here is at a whole new height. If you haven't allowed the film to pull along with its ridiculousness by the time Harold and Kumar find themselves in a stop-motion animated NYC, you will soon after.
The whole thing is presented in high quality 3D, and Strauss-Schulson doesn't blink for a moment in utilizing that whether that includes launching eggs directly at the camera, having characters "kick" the lens and shattering it, or even having Cho comment casually how 3D has "jumped the shark". There's a rare case where one would disagree with Cho when he says this, but the tongue-in-cheek way films like 3D Christmas use the photography, the way they embrace the gimmick nature and proceed to throw things directly at the camera, almost makes it worthwhile.
There might be too much in the way of scene-to-scene-to-scene movement here, though. The production value allows for some crazy moments throughout the film. Flipped cars and blazing Christmas trees and extremely slow motion shoot-outs are just a few of the aspects used to keep the action moving. However, many of the scenes here feel only brushed on, shown for a fleeting moment before it all moves on to the next thing. NPH and his screen time is the biggest dropped ball here. Granted, he has a gigantic musical number and delivers some of the best lines of the movie, but it's only one scene in the middle and never touched on again. Even Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay had a post-credit sequence where he popped up again. Not the case here.
But that doesn't keep the rest of 3D Christmas from being a frenzied success of a comedy. Cho and Penn have amazing chemistry, as is to be expected here their third time out. The idea of Harold wanting to live a somewhat straight life and Kumar pulling him back into some kind of wacky adventure could have easily gotten old by now, but these two actors sell it. They sell it well with the way they bounce dialogue off of each other. It's a formula that's been used before, but when you have such charismatic actors as Cho and Penn filling such likable characters as these, it's hard not to let the familiarity of its structure off with a warning.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas won't go down as one of the holiday classics. Like Escape From Guantanamo Bay and even Go To White Castle, much of the film will be enjoyed and quickly set aside soon after exiting the theater. However, for those 90 minutes, 3D Christmas delivers effective laugh after effective laugh. The formula of this present might be expected, but when you have such fresh and charged wrapping as this film's execution offers, you can't help but want to see another package from the same team.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10