Several years after an awkward experience at Guantanamo Bay (both in terms of plotting and execution), the most famous on screen stoners since Jay and Silent Bob and the funniest ones since Cheech and Chong, return to take on the holidays in the ornately titled A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. Despite the series coming up on its fourth instalment (which naturally means they have to go to space), this latest edition in the buddy comedy series replaces the preachy and shaky political satire of their previous outing and replaces it with more of the situational humour and heart that made the pair’s first trip to White Castle so successful.
Set largely on Christmas Eve several years after the events of the last film, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have moved on from one another. Harold has entered into marital bliss with his lovely wife Maria and is attempting to conceive a child with her. Kumar on the other hand still lives in the same old apartment, has let the pot go to his head, and has recently found out that the girl who recently left him is pregnant.
A mysterious package addressed to Harold is dropped on Kumar’s doorstep, and the friends reunite when Kumar goes to return it. Inside is a massive joint that neither of them even gets to enjoy before it sets fire to the tree that Maria’s overbearing and deeply scary father (Danny Trejo) demanded be a part of their family Christmas. Thus begins a series of crazed events as the duo run all over New York City to find a replacement tree with their new BFF’s in tow: the leeringly skeezy Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) and the goodie-two-shoes-father Todd (Thomas Lennon) who can’t seem to blow off “daddy-daughter day” for anything.
By this point the series has realized that it can’t logically function as a teen comedy anymore and instead goes for broader appeal. The gags in this film run the gamut from inspired (Elias Koteas playing a Tyler Perry watching Russian mobster), to bizarre (an entire subplot involving a waffle making robot), to sublime (an extended claymation sequence), to just a bit too far (a baby with a serious drug habit), to nostalgic (the always welcome, and seemingly obligatory cameo from Neil Patrick Harris). Director Todd Strauss-Schulson keeps the jokes coming as quickly as possible to sustain the compact 88 minutes.
What makes the film work better than the previous sequel is that the focus here isn’t necessarily on the clever gags, but on the relationship between the two main characters. Cho and Penn have a chemistry almost unmatched among comedic duos of this new century, and they work together to make sure that once the film does finally decide to settle into territory usually staked out by more sanitized holiday fare, it never gets bogged down in needless sentiment. Cho and Penn know the perfect balance to make the material seem downright sweet and not saccharine.
Audience’s minds are probably already made up on this one, but much like the original film it could very well appeal to a wider audience outside of the chronic club. AVH&K3DC has more comedic imagination in ten minutes than most films this year can muster in ninety. It achieves a giddy high for even the most sober of viewers willing to go along for the ride. After all, what other movie can boast that it has a chorus line of waffle making robots playing Little Drummer Boy while NPH does a sexually suggestive song and dance number?