*A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
It's been seven years since Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle raised the bar for stoner comedies. It was seriously funny, but it also broke ground by having two leads of Asian descent who took serious tokes on the smart, insightful and satirical writing. It was a movie that made fun of race jokes while making race jokes, and, of course, it completely transformed the careers of John Cho (Harold), Kal Penn (Kumar), and Neil Patrick Harris (um, Neil Patrick Harris).
But that was seven years ago, and all of the players have gone in very different directions since the 2008 sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Neil Patrick Harris is ubiquitous. John Cho is Sulu in the new Star Trek movies. Kal Penn went and worked in the Obama administration.
If you're a fan of the franchise you might be worried about A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which opens on Friday. Don't be. It's very funny, and it was shot in 3-D, so everything they poke at you, whether pot smoke, rotten eggs or someone's penis, feels as though it was shot with that intention, rather than being added in post-production.
"In all three movies, we have our cake and eat it, too," Cho told me in a recent interview. "I always felt that the humor has always been, as pervy as it is, somehow sweet. The writers, the creators, are that way — their sense of humor is perverted but sweet, in a teenage way."
The two friends have drifted apart in the new movie, which takes place on Christmas Eve several years after the last one. Harold is now married and desperate to impress his father-in-law (Danny Trejo). Kumar has lost his medical license due to his total cannabis saturation. But they're brought back together and sent on a quest to, as in all holiday movies, save Christmas.
Of course, they do it via raunchy situations, drugs and some sincerely over-the-line gags. (If you've ever wanted to see a coked-up toddler, here's your chance.) But the guys who made this movie have seen all the holiday and 3-D movies you have, so they satirize all of them, as well the other two films in the franchise.
And yes, just like in the previous movies, the best moments belong to Harris. But wait, you're thinking, didn't he die in the last one? Yes. No. Maybe so. Some of each. Regardless, what he does here goes far beyond anything he's done in the franchise, and it is absolutely filthy.
"He's really sweet and he has a sweetheart image, but it seems like he can go wherever he wants," said Cho. "Ironically, the filthier he gets in our movies, the more beloved he becomes. He had his real-life husband in it, and it just got out of control. I think the drugs got a little more serious with his input.
"Without giving anything away, we challenge what you presently think about Neil Patrick Harris."
Of course, there are moments where the jokes don't work, and even though it clocks in at just 90 minutes, the buzz feels like it's wearing off in the movie's later stages. But A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas succeeds — inasmuch as a 3-D Christmas stoner comedy can — by remaining sweet as a sugarplum, and dank as best buds can be.