“Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” is a stoner comedy in the grand tradition of, um, “Dude, Where’s My Car?,” only funnier and snappier. I will tell you without compunction that I laughed many times during the film, and I will add that 90 percent of those laughs were at things I cannot repeat here. (Well, I guess I COULD repeat them, since this is the Internet, but I won’t.) The movie is approximately what you would expect; if you walk out of it offended, that’s your own fault for not doing your homework before you went.
It is the tale of two post-college 20-somethings and their attempt to satisfy some pot-induced late-night munchies. They are the Korean-American Harold (John Cho), a responsible type with much work to do for his investment-banker job this particular Friday night; and Kumar (Kal Penn), an Indian-American with great MCAT scores who refuses to go to medical school because he’d rather loaf around, smoke weed, and live off his father’s money.
They are residents of Hoboken, N.J., and they realize in order to sate their cravings for White Castle hamburgers, they will have to drive to a nearby town. Thus begins a series of adventures, sidetracks and distractions, most of them typical of the genre: There is a horrific bathroom experience, some vehicular mayhem, and a couple run-ins with wildlife; there are many jokes focused on post-adolescent gay paranoia, where being gay is the worst thing imaginable and is therefore the funniest thing to joke about; and there are hot chicks with whom Harold and Kumar may or may not get to fool around.
These are the film’s less inspired elements, exhibiting far less imagination on the part of writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (both first-timers) than some of the movie’s other scenes suggest. For example, there is a fantasy sequence where Kumar falls in love with a huge bag of pot that is among the funniest things I’ve seen all year. (Imagine all the love fantasies you’ve ever seen in movies, then replace the woman with a human-sized brick of marijuana.) There’s also a hilariously self-effacing cameo by Neil Patrick Harris … as himself, high on something and lost in the woods. (Cameos from other pals of the filmmakers abound, too, including Ryan Reynolds and Jamie Kennedy.)
So it’s hit-or-miss, but the lead actors are eminently likable, and the direction (by Danny Leiner, who also gave us “Dude, Where’s My Car?”) is brisk and snappy. The jokes that don’t work aren’t belabored; the ones that do are often gut-bustingly, outrageously funny.
I mentioned the lead characters’ race earlier. This is because they often mention it themselves. They have two Jewish friends whose heritage they make the butt of jokes, in addition to the cracks about their own ethnicities. There are also plot points involving racial profiling by police officers. None of it ever feels racist or anti-semitic; in fact, it’s just the opposite. The movie sees everyone as being from different backgrounds, but united by the fact that they’re all human, all flawed, and all acceptable targets for humor. If you make fun of everyone, then everyone’s on the same level.
B- (1 hr., 27 min.; )