Sunday, September 29, 2013

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle - 2004

"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" - 2004
Dir. by Danny Leiner - 1 hr. 28 min.

Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Just like, like it or not, every generation gets the awful Fleetwood Mac cover that they deserve, every generation also gets their own stoner icons.  For the last decade, that's meant Harold and Kumar, and their odyssey started here, with "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle."  Thankfully, this film is both good and weird, and stands on it's own outside of any altered states.  To be sure, if you're not at least neutral on this subject, you'll probably get as annoyed at the references as I do when watching a movie about a drunk, but I maintain the oddness in "H&K" is enough to provide a rich comedic environment for most viewers.

Harold (John Cho) works at an investment firm, and an inconsiderate pair of douchebags decide to ruin his weekend by dumping some work on him at the last second, so that they can hit some strip clubs.  Harold's roommate, Kumar (Kal Penn), deliberately fouls up an interview for medical school, and lets Harold know that he doesn't consider any work sufficient reason to change their weekend plans, which are to get baked as hell.  So when they fulfill their plans, they naturally get a little hungry, and go on a quest to eat a mountain of White Castle burgers.  This proves to be more difficult than one would think, and not just because they're both stoned.

So let's get the discussion of weed-related humor out of the way.  First point that this film makes is that indulging doesn't automatically equal loserdom.  Harold has a decent job; although he's low in the pecking order, that's more due to his age than anything else.  And Kumar is very smart (and very confrontational); although he's screwing up his future education options, he's doing it on purpose.  As he puts it, "Just because you're hung like a moose doesn't mean you have to do porn."  He's not really portrayed as a particularly bad influence, just the more easy-going of the comedic duo, versus Harold being the more uptight one.  For the most part, the things that happen to Harold and Kumar could happen with or without marijuana's involvement, although it does give an explanation for the surreal progression of events, and how the audience is just supposed to take things at face value.  But "H&K" isn't really a PSA or anything, not like this one that's part of the movie:

I'm invincible!!!

For the most part, "H&K" is about a couple of buddies who have the munchies, and keep finding themselves in improbable situations.  Director Danny Leiner is also responsible for "Dude, Where's My Car?", which features a similar manner of story and storytelling.  Thankfully "H&K" got to go for an R-rating, which frees up a lot more comedic space.  This type of story can be very difficult to pull off, and it's done so largely successfully here.  There are many small roles with familiar faces that add to the weirdness of the film, none more so than Neil Patrick Harris' few minutes of screen time.  It's impossible to talk about this film, or the franchise, without mentioning how spectacularly funny NPH is, playing a drug-fueled, hetero sex-crazed version of "himself."  It's a textbook example of how to destroy any preconceptions anyone might have about the roles that an out gay actor can play, with the understanding that there really wasn't a textbook for that prior to NPH's turn here.  The lesson: he's an actor, of course he can convince you that he wants a muff burger.  That's kind of his job.  And he's pretty good at it.

"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" succeeds because it's funny, weird, surreally episodic, and because it has all the things a good late-night movie needs.  There's a hot girl, dream sequences (Kumar's romance sequence with a giant bag of weed is messed up and awesome, even after multiple viewings), doofus bad guys, substance abuse, a nonsensical quest, and eventual victory for our heroes.  This is a solid film, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite never having tasted a White Castle burger myself.  So even a minor thing like that shouldn't hamper anyone's enjoyment.

3.5 / 5 - TV

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