"Hasn't the whole 3-D thing jumped the shark by now?" That's the question posed early in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas by Harold (John Cho), the more responsible half of the 21st century's Cheech & Chong. The major movie studios may not be ready to accept it, but the answer to that question is yes -- which is why it's so refreshing when screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wedge a winking acknowledgement into their film.
By embracing the inherent silliness of what's still a gimmick at heart, Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and director Todd Strauss-Schulson manage to use the technique far more effectively than most other films in the fad's current revival. So if the notion of a Harold & Kumar film in 3-D immediately has you placing bets on how long it'll be before someone onscreen takes a bong hit and blows a smoke ring toward the audience, you're on the right track. Also, bet that it'll happen early, because the filmmakers know exactly what audiences want out of this duo and are more than happy to deliver.
Sex, drug abuse, a bizarre one-night quest, a strangely endearing sweetness and a little commentary on racial stereotypes: The right blend of those elements were what made Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle such an surprise hit in 2004. Their clumsy application in the 2008 sequel, Escape from Guantanamo Bay, made that film a disappointment. Thankfully, Christmas sees the series returning to something closer to its White Castle form.
The film opens six years after Guantanamo; Harold now has a wife, a house and a high-powered Manhattan finance job. (In what seems a timely accident, the film's first big 3-D set-piece involves a hilarious slow-motion action parody in which Occupy Wall Street-style protesters launch a barrage of eggs at him as he leaves his high-rise office.)
Kumar, meanwhile, is still a dedicated stoner, wasting away on a ratty couch. Their paths no longer cross, and they've barely spoken in years, but a mysterious package left for Harold at Kumar's door brings them back together. It also leads to the accidental destruction of a prized Christmas tree that Harold had promised his intimidating father-in-law (Danny Trejo) that he'd take care of.
So begins the night's quest, as the pair -- along with Kumar's sex-crazed new buddy Adrian, Harold's nebbishy pal Todd, and Todd's terrible-2-year-old daughter -- go in search of a suitably perfect replacement tree on Christmas Eve. From here, the film sticks close to formula, and is perhaps a little too eager to go to extremes in order to shock at times.
But the gleeful chaos of the night -- which includes waffle-making robots, Ukranian gangsters and the mischievous lampooning of A Christmas Story, Woody Allen's Manhattan, and Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials -- wins out. Neil Patrick Harris turns up again as an abusive, drug- and sex-addicted fictional version of himself, but also gets to do a bit of song and dance in a holiday song-and-dance special that would do Busby Berkeley proud.
Christmas may lack some of the surprisingly insightful subtext of White Castle, but it never lacks for pure entertainment value. Strauss-Schulson, directing his first feature, is never shy about going for the requisite excess -- of either the franchise or the 3-D format -- and the two aesthetics blend perfectly in one sequence that has plumes of cocaine falling like snow as Bing Crosby serenely croons "White Christmas." Strauss-Schulson doesn't want the extra dimension to fade into the background as an afterthought; just as with the shameless showmen of 3-D's original 1950s heyday, his vision of the medium is an unabashedly in your face.
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