Whenever comedies start spawning sequels, the law of diminishing returns normally starts kicking in pretty quickly. Regardless of what box-office figures would suggest, the Austin Powers series is one of the most egregious offenders, recycling swathes of gags from the first film so thoroughly that Goldmember was effectively a photocopy of a photocopy. You could spend all day rattling off good comedies with terrible sequels. City Slickers, The Nutty Professor, Hot Shots, Major League, Bruce Almighty, Men in Black, Analyze This: all of these movies didn’t have a concept that could support a ongoing franchise.
Nobody could’ve guessed that the makers of low-brow stoner comedy Harold and Kumar would crack the winning formula, but with this ‘3D’ Christmas sequel, it appears as if they have.
Taking place years after the duo escaped from Guantanamo Bay, we find that Harold (John Cho) has become a high-powered banker and a newlywed husband living in the suburbs. His estranged friend Kumar (Kal Penn) hasn’t really moved on so much, as he still spends his days smoking pun-based strains of marijuana (his dealer is a shopping mall Santa with a regular line in Winter Wonder Weed and Rudolph the Red Eyed Reindeer).
Reunited on an epic quest to find a tree on Christmas Eve, Harold and Kumar’s long journey into Christmas night finds them tangling with privileged city kids, experiencing psychotropic hallucinations and getting in trouble with Russian gangsters. Just like in the first two films, Kumar has to re-learn the importance of taking responsibility while stuffy Harold has to remember how to chill out a bit. Their character arcs are pretty standard and the constant drug references might not be for everybody, but Cho and Penn are so comfortable in these parts that the final effect is actually quite endearing.
Old characters are reintroduced in amongst the newer additions: while it’s great to see Neil Patrick Harris playing a creepy, sex-crazed hetero-version of Neil Patrick Harris, the writers thankfully went to the effort of creating some original material as well. Wu-Tang’s RZA has a funny bit playing a tree salesman and there’s a nice little plot detour that sees Harold’s needy new friend and Kumar’s Ira Glass-lookalike neighbour in their own little side adventure. The script finds a nice balance between acknowledging the earlier films and finding new things for these characters to do.
As you’ll quickly discover, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas was made specifically with 3D in mind, and it certainly makes more of it than almost every other film. Instead of using the technology to ‘immerse the view in the world of the film’ like we’ve heard so much, all the 3D in this movie is intentionally gimmicky. There are shots of weed smoke being blown towards the camera, broken glass and sparks flying everywhere and a shot a waffle-making robot ejaculating maple syrup in slow motion. And while they’ve fully embraced the gimmick, the writers and director have not solely relied on it.
Even without the crap flying towards you, the film works perfectly well in 2D as a sweet, hilarious and unexpectedly appropriate holiday movie. If there is another Harold and Kumar film in the pipeline, we can’t wait to see it!