Directed by: Danny Leiner
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Paula Garces, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Reynolds
No, the high rating is not a typo.
The absurdly -- if engagingly -- named Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle isn't a great film. Far from it. It's also not without its flaws: Two sequences -- one of which plunges new lows in our modern mania for toilet humor -- are more gag-inducing than funny. And, yes, Harold and Kumar is very much a stoner comedy cut from the same cloth as director Danny Leiner's previous film, Dude, Where's My Car?. But on a number of different levels, there's more here than meets the eye.
For starters, even though our heroes are stoners of the finest kind, they are not the brain-dead slackers of Dude. Rather, they're bright and personable. Harold (John Cho, American Pie) holds down a responsible job, and while Kumar (Kal Penn, Van Wilder) is a slacker who goes to college just so his father will continue to support him, he can't help but get high marks there, turning out to be a medical whiz-kid in one of the movie's funnier sequences. So maybe Harold and Kumar is a movie for stoner over-achievers; in any case, at least it isn't just another dumb druggie flick that suggests the world begins and ends with getting high.
More intriguing still is the film's bold move of starring a Korean and an Indian, relegating such teen-comedy regulars as Ryan Reynolds and Jamie Kennedy to supporting roles. It's also of more than passing interest that the movie doesn't trade on its two prinicipals' concerns over their own ethnicity. Harold and Kumar are constantly beset by problems arising from racism, but in their own bearing and manner, they're just a couple of American kids like any others. The feeling here is fresh and pleasant -- not in the least because both Cho and Penn have heretofore served as comic foils for white leading players.
Harold and Kumar is also a savvy little movie, having the wit to reference Cho's appearance in the critically acclaimed box-office dud Better Luck Tomorrow, plus in director Leiner's earlier Dude travesty and, of all things, Katie Holmes' nude scene in The Gift. The screenplay -- by former script doctors Jon Hurwitz and Jayden Schlossberg -- is constantly turning cliches on their heads, offering quirky pop-culture riffs on the material. For instance, when Neil Patrick Harris shows up in the middle of nowhere -- blitzed out of his mind on Ecstasy, and with lap-dancing as his only interest -- the film attains the level of genuinely surreal. And then it tops itself, having the former TV star steal Harold's car, with the cop who becomes involved refusing to believe this happened because, he says, "N.P.H. wouldn't do that." The movie is full of such choice little bits. It also spoofs nearly every sexual stereotype you can name.
Of course, the bottom line for a film called Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle comes down to a simple question: Is it funny? And, while this stoner road trip in search of White Castle hamburgers to satisfy our heroes' munchies misfires a few times along the way, it still provides more than enough goofy laughs to make the journey a pleasant one. That it manages to score a few other points as well makes it something of a minor miracle in the realm of teen comedies.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke