**/**** Image B Sound B Extras D
starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Danny Trejo, Neil Patrick Harris
screenplay by Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
by Angelo Muredda The funniest moment in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas lasts about three seconds and comes at the end of a barrage of trite digs at the Occupy Wall Street movement that could have been written by Herman Cain at the height of his powers of lucidity. Harold (John Cho), who over the course of these movies has graduated from restless investment banker to high-rolling trader, has just been given a 3D TV that's promised to "make Avatar look Avatarded," and he's about to leave the office through a mass of protestors when Princeton pal-turned-assistant Ken (Bobby Lee) begs to take the bullet for him. The bullet turns out to be a bunch of eggs, launched at the screen at various speeds and from various angles in the first of at least a dozen meta-3D gags that are supposed to be hilarious because having things thrown at you in 3D sucks. It's a shock when the shot of the aftermath is actually pretty good: poor Ken lies traumatized (or dead?) in a pool of yolk as a Lisa Gerrard knockoff wails incomprehensibly on the soundtrack, à la Black Hawk Down.
Charming as this moment is, it's also a bad omen: this is the kind of movie that's still pissed about Black Hawk Down, it says--made by people who only just saw Avatar and casually Asked Jeeves about "Occupy Wall Street." None of which is to say that stoner comedies need to be current; the problem is that there's no sense behind the references and little fun behind the senselessness, rendering these jokes as obnoxious as some asshole at a party who's indiscriminately reciting "Futurama" trivia before waxing poetic on Inception. And about Ken: very funny in the first outing, Lee's reduced here to an emasculated, submissive Asian stereotype several leagues beneath this series' typically more interesting subversions of racial politics. If the promotion of Korean-American Harold to the top 1% recalls the cautious optimism of "The Jeffersons", Ken's early vanquishing under a ton of yellow goo feels like a nasty allegorical warning against traveling in Caucasian spheres. Worse is that this ugliness is neither funny nor sufficiently tempered with the sweetness that made the original film so successful: Harold and partner-in-crime Kumar (Kal Penn) have real chemistry, but it gets jettisoned into a vacuum of bad Christmas jokes, listless digressions starring less-accomplished comedians, and dopey third-act sentimentalism about becoming a man.
The story this time is an odd mishmash of stoner quest and Spielbergian new-dad anxieties. The titular friends have grown apart since the last instalment, as Harold turned to marriage (Paula Garcés returns as his wife Maria) and his career while Kumar parked himself on his couch under a 3D weed cloud. (A very nice touch.) That all changes when a magic joint arrives at Kumar's doorstep in a package marked for his ex-roommate--a miracle that reunites the old confidantes after Kumar accidentally burns down the Christmas tree Harold's menacing father-in-law Mr. Perez (Danny Trejo) has entrusted to him. Stunned by a revelation from ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Daneel Harris) that he's about to become a father, Kumar vows to prove himself a responsible adult. With the help of their new, replacement white friends ("Reno 911"'s Thomas Lennon and "Jake and Amir"'s Amir Blumenfeld, aggressively unfunny in his big-screen debut), the now-thirtysomething duo set off in search of a proper Christmas tree and, in the process, get involved with both a menacing Ukrainian gangster (a criminally squandered Elias Koteas) and--as per tradition--a dissipated Neil Patrick Harris.
As with its predecessors, it's the character-based material that resonates in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. NPH has his usual good time playing a debased version of himself, crumbling to his knees over the promise of cocaine and at one point introducing himself in Heaven as that guy who played Carl Jenkins in Starship Troopers. Occasional White House staffer Penn is also convincing as a potential savant waiting for his moment to shine. He spends much of the film discreetly texting his ex from his jacket pocket in a sweet visual motif that registers far better than the multiple CG phalluses hurled at our 3D glasses throughout. If there's anything left to mine in this franchise, it's Kumar's surprisingly affecting step towards adulthood, back-pocket joint and all.
But the jokes around him are pathetic. A repeated bit with Night at the Museum co-scribe Lennon's drug-addled baby is solid at first--Kumar calms her with a Wu-Tang Clan lullaby--but wears thin fast. At one point, Lennon desperately tries to change her diaper at a rich teen's party and finds that every bedroom is occupied by bratty teens doing whatever it is they do. Maybe try the bathroom? Screenwriters and series creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg seem to have forgotten their punchline, and throw cocaine at the screen instead. It's a trick they pull out of their Santa's sack far too often, to diminished returns. This low-stakes pile-up of incidents makes for a surprisingly leaden 90 minutes--manic comedies are only good when things are legitimately going wrong for the same people, not a succession of bit players--and not even the (discount) surrealism of an inspired, hallucinatory Claymation trip compensates for it. Intermittent pleasures aside, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas makes the case for Harold fading into obscurity on Wall Street, out of view. As for Kumar, he's got at least another year at the White House.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas to Blu-ray in separate 3D and 2D releases. The film is rechristened A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas on the cover of the latter's pointless release, but, pointless or not, this is the hand the 3D holdouts of FILM FREAK CENTRAL have been dealt. In addition to all the ineffectual comin'-at-ya gags, the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer suffers from noise--a lot of it, though it fluctuates in intensity. The real problem with it is that it's not very supple, instead clumping to the image like the artifacts from a low-end digital camera. Indeed, although the picture was shot in HiDef with Panavision's high-end Genesis camera, it's unevenly cinematic at best, frequently if subtly betraying the telltale signs of DV, like motion trails and blown-out whites. The big set-pieces--the Claymation sequence, NPH's song-and-dance number--are suitably glossy, but I'm frankly surprised to see this presentation receiving such high marks elsewhere. Audio is another story: For some reason, the Extended Cut (EC) on this "Extra Dope Edition" downgrades the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD audio of the theatrical version to DD 5.1; since most viewers will, I suspect, head straight for the promised land of unrated hijinks, I consider this disc to have a default lossy track, which is inexcusable in this day and age. The mix itself is quite punchy for a stoner comedy and an effective complement to the 3D gags.
One half of the most cynical screenwriting duo to ever smear their shit across the silver screen, rangeless Tom Lennon smarms it up in three allegedly funny, entirely putrid interview segments--"I'm Doing a Puff Piece Over Here" (2 mins., HD), "I Hate Drugs" (1 min., HD), and "F#'@ You Charles Dickens" (2 mins., HD)--filed under the umbrella heading "Through the Haze with Tom Lennon," while "Bringing Harold and Kumar Claymation to Life" (4 mins., HD) is 10% soundbites/90% splitscreen storyboard-to-animation comparison. Lastly, "Deleted Scenes" (4 mins. in toto, HD) gives us more cutting-edge Catskills humour involving Eddie Kaye Thomas's Rosenberg, as well as more coked-up baby and a scene where the Russian mobster's hot daughter tries to blow Santa Claus. Yup. HD startup promos for Warner's 3D Blu-ray slate and the dismal-looking Project X (not the Matthew Broderick monkey movie) round out the platter, which naturally comes with a Digital Copy. I have no idea what was added for the EC, by the way, as no annotation is provided and I'm not masochistic enough to do the homework myself. Originally published: February 6, 2012.