When one considers the way smoking marijuana is portrayed on film, it's amazing that anyone would want to do it. Put simply: Smoke pot, act stupid. Starting with Up in Smoke in 1978, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong made a ton of money for a decade sucking on reefer and behaving like nitwits. But young people continue to inhale and evidently laugh at their own shenanigans under the influence as exaggerated in the movies.
Director Danny Leiner had a hit several years ago with Dude, Where's My Car? about two stoners who get so wasted they don't even know where they are when they wake up one morning. Why fool with a proven thing? So Leiner is back now with another grasshead comedy, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. All my natural instincts want to reject movies this inane, but I have to admit I laughed at Dude, Where's My Car?. I don't want to overbill the current film, but I laughed as much at Harold and Kumar, and overall I liked it better.
Written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is about a monumental case of the munchies. Harold (John Cho) is a junior investment analyst. Shy and studious, he works hard and allows himself to be pushed around by more aggressive types at his company. He's got an elephant-size crush on Maria (Paula Garces), who lives in his building, but he can barely muster the courage to mumble hello to her. Harold's roommate, Kumar (Kal Penn), meanwhile, is a world-class party animal. Smart enough to get into any medical school, he lives off his daddy's money and concentrates his activities on the single-minded pursuit of staying one toke over the line. That serious-minded, relentlessly responsible Harold is Kumar's resolute bong buddy is one of the film's many flaws. But from the time of Laurel and Hardy forward, somebody had to be the one to complain, "Another fine mess you've gotten me into!"
Trouble for our heroes begins when they've gotten seriously loaded one night and see a White Castle ad on TV. Instant obsession. Only the nearest White Castle is 45 minutes and a world of adventures away. Years ago Jim Abrahams, who worked with David and Jerry Zucker on the Airplane and Naked Gun films, told me that constructing movie comedies was like putting beads on a string. Each bead is a separate scene designed to produce as many laughs as possible. The plot is the string that holds the individual beads and makes them into a whole. Our Harold and Kumar filmmakers obviously went to the same film school Abrahams did. The trip to White Castle is the string. And some of the beads are pretty tarnished and gnarly. But some glitter like jewels.
Harold and Kumar's individual adventures are barely connected save by their craving for a bag of bite-sized burgers. They are hounded by a carload of punks who threaten them at every turn. A raccoon gets in their car. They make a side trip to Princeton and try to get lucky with a couple of women who gross them out instead. In hopes of raiding a hospital's supply of "medical marijuana," Kumar has to perform emergency surgery on a gun-shot victim. They are threatened by an escaped cheetah. Harold gets put in jail for jay walking. And they escape pursuing cops on a hang-glider. If much of this sounds pretty lame, it is. Worse, the picture resorts to the kind of bathroom humor that has always perplexed me that anyone considers funny.
Still, the flick has some nice set pieces. The picture brilliantly parodies the stock romantic montage when Kumar finds a bag of weed the size of a pillow. In a two-minute sequence, Kumar and the bag he adores share a series of heart-swelling experiences, each funnier than the previous. Elsewhere, Christopher Meloni (who stars on Law & Order SVU) shows up as Freakshow, the tow-truck operator from hell. Looking like someone from Deliverance who has been bitten in the head by a nest of rattlesnakes, Freakshow and his girlfriend, Lianne (Malin Ackerman), make Harold and Kumar an offer even a dead man would attempt to refuse. And at the picture's climax a wild-eyed Neil Patrick Harris (yes, Doogie Howser) shows up as a version of himself, whacked on Ecstasy and on an urgent mission to get laid.
Harold and Kumar also makes a terrific no-look pass about American diversity. Harold is ethnically Korean; Kumar is Indian. But both of these guys are 100 percent American doofuses. The central characters worry (very) occasionally about stereotypes associated with their ethnicity, but the picture doesn't and, as we should, we instantly forget the tint of their skin. That says something hopeful about a nation that prides itself on being the world's melting pot. (Nice to close, no, with the word pot?)
- Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) spend a night obsessing over some tasty burgers in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.