REVIEW: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas Throws Off a Few Sparks, Then Fizzles
The great news about A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is that it features some of the most original 3-D effects this side of Avatar: Raw-egg splatter comin' right at ya, shockeroo Claymation penises that'll rock your world, nativity Jesuses blasting into the sky and lots of mystical-looking marijuana smoke wafting straight off the screen and into your very own lungs, visually speaking at least.
The not-so-great news is that A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas lacks the freewheeling, generous spirit of the first two Harold & Kumar movies and tries to make up for that lack with extra crudeness. The picture is extremely funny in places, and at times its sense of daring nudges close to brilliance. But the rest of the time, this extravaganza of tastelessness is working so hard to shock us that its recurring jolts settle into a kind of numbing dullness. It's an extravaganza of bad taste that in the end just tastes bad.
Several years have passed since the higher-and-high jinks of the 2008 Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn, back in action after his White House stint) are barely in touch. Harold is a Wall Street hotshot who's happily settled, in a big house, with his wife, Maria (Paula Garcés). Kumar is living in their old apartment, a nest of empty pizza boxes and crumpled sofa cushions, self-medicating after his breakup with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Danneel Harris). Harold has overachieved in all areas but one: He and Maria have been trying for a year to conceive a child; Kumar, having drifted out of medical school on a waft of smoke, has underperformed in all areas but one: Vanessa appears at his door, testily, to inform him that she's pregnant.
Adulthood beckons our two hapless heroes, and in a big way. Then a magic spliff reunites the two friends, but it also causes a passel of trouble involving Maria's stern, impossible-to-please papa (the great Danny Trejo), the virgin daughter of a Ukrainian mobster (he's played by Elias Koteas) and an assortment of characters including the toddler daughter of Harold's new, and very straitlaced, best friend, Todd (Thomas Lennon). During the course of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, little Ava will be introduced to pot, cocaine and ecstasy -- and she loves it all! That's a pretty daring move in a contemporary culture where children are mini-potentates who must be protected from bad influences at all costs, and Ava's blissed-out giggles (she's played by triplets Ashley, Chloe and Hannah Coss) make for the movie's silliest, most subversive moments.
Technically, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is something of a wonder: Director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who created the characters and have written all three Harold & Kumar movies) have come up with some surprising and inventive ideas, including a goofy-gory Claymation dream sequence heralded by the portentous words, "Don't worry -- nothing bad ever happens in Claymation." And there's a big Radio City-style musical number featuring Neil Patrick Harris that balances off-color one-liners and sight gags with lavish ridiculousness.
But A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas wobbles off the rails more often than it ought to. The first two Harold & Kumar movies made no effort to stamp out racial stereotypes; instead, they reveled in them. But this third installment, as visually clever as it is, relies too much on dumb, crude jock humor: There seem to be more buxom, semi-naked girls clattering around in high heels than I recall from either of the earlier pictures. And a sequence in which Harris reveals that he's not really gay but just fakes it so he can get girls seems genuinely perverse, and not in the good way: Maybe watching Harris ogle the comely cuties in his chorus line is supposed to be funny, but it just comes off as crass and forced (though you do have to give the writers extra points for managing to work the presence of Jesus, as a nightclub impresario no less, into the whole absurd affair).
As a fan of the first two Harold & Kumar movies, I wanted to love A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. And I did get a kick out of the way Kumar, after Harold accidentally shoots Santa in the face, stitches old St. Nick back up, good as new. That moment is perhaps the truest measure of their friendship, a highlight of their joint adventure. But the rest of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is 2-D in its heart.
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