A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas lives up to the very specific promise of its title. It’s a film that opens with a fake Santa getting high and ends with the real one toking up. It’s a 3-D outing that has the good sense to be properly filmed in the format, only to still toss gratuitously inserted items towards the screen: splattering eggs, beer pong balls and the surprisingly effective waft of pot smoke each and every time one of these stoners gets, well, stoned.
At the start of the film, that’s really only Kumar (Kal Penn). Having been kicked out of medical school and dumped by his girlfriend, he has nothing better to do than get blazed, a priority which has come between him and the suddenly suburban Harold (John Cho) since we saw them last. However, once Kumar receives a package intended for Harold and drops it off with all the best intentions, things go to hell all over again, forcing the duo on Christmas Eve to find a suitable replacement for the Christmas tree that Harold’s holiday-zealous soon-to-be father-in-law (a perfectly used Danny Trejo) had spent eight years growing for just this occasion. If you think their late-night quest is bound to go awry, just as it had in 2004’s …White Castle and 2008’s …Guantanamo Bay, then you wouldn’t be wrong. The reluctant buddies have to contend with Ukrainian gangsters (led by Elias Koteas), stoned kiddies, an intoxication approximation of classic Claymation and, once more, the timely appearance of Neil Patrick Harris as a stridently heterosexual version of himself.
Making his first feature with series writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, director Todd Strauss-Schulson manages to send up both A Christmas Story and Platoon, include a traditional Broadway musical number centered around NPH (naturally), introduce a readily adorable must-have toy of the season named Wafflebot and work in passing references to both Cho’s part in Star Trek and Penn’s work in the White House. The resulting hodge-podge of low-brow gags and winking humor is surprisingly spirited, and has the distinct advantage of not being as immediately dated as half of the humor in Guantanamo already is. As is series tradition at this point, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Mexicans all take turns knowingly embodying or subverting minority stereotypes, while Christmas seems to work in a few more knocks at various religions than its predecessors had. (As part of a hypothetical diversion, a young altar boy invites priests to join him for a pillow fight; Jesus Himself struts around Heaven with a topless woman under each arm.)
And like the rest of the franchise to date, it knows that outrageous humor and offensive humor need not be the same goal. Sure, it’s taboo to display a toddler under the influence of first marijuana, then cocaine, and then ecstasy, but it’s a bit that quickly wears out its welcome. Meanwhile, Harris continues to work wonders with his one-note joke, further mocking his public persona and demonstrating a depraved ferocity with the ladies to hilarious effect. He’s only around for two scenes, though, meaning that the brunt of the film’s charm once again falls on the pairing of Cho and Penn, whose respectively responsible and reckless rapport still rings true in this most unlikely of sequels.
All in all, it’s a frequently funny return to form that embraces several universal truths: that Harold and Kumar are better off together than not (for our sake if not their own), that stoner comedies need not be lazy with their juvenile wares, and that the combination of waffles and robots is indeed an awesome one.