A movie succeeds or fails based on its own merits. If a film is trying to be a dumb movie, and it undoubtedly is (like, say, Airplane), then it must be deemed a success. If a film is trying its damnedest to gross you out, and it's succeeding (There's Something About Mary, for example), then it is—for lack of a better word—a “good” movie. Given this argument, we can't simply dismiss a film like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Yes, it looks rude, crude and incredibly juvenile—but it's trying really hard to be rude, crude and incredibly juvenile. And in this respect, it is a rousing success.
The film comes to us courtesy of director Steve Leiner, who—after years on the sitcom circuit—burst into feature films with the unapologetically idiotic Dude, Where's My Car? His newest outing follows more or less the same roadmap: Two stoner dorks engage in an epic quest to accomplish some simple task. In Dude, Jesse and Chester (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) woke up after a night of hard partying and tried to figure out where they had parked their car. In H&K, the titular duo (John Cho and Kal Penn) get wicked stoned and decide to go out for White Castle hamburgers. That's about it for plot, folks. The rest of the brief runtime is eaten up by the string of wacky encounters that befall our hemp-loving heroes on the road to fast food satisfaction.
Film history is filled with “dummy duos”—from Abbot and Costello to Cheech and Chong to Bill and Ted to Beavis and Butthead. Our titular toke-takers certainly follow in this grand tradition with a couple vaguely interesting twists. The ethnic angle (Harold is Korean, Kumar is Indian) lends a little diversity and allows for a few self-mocking jokes about racial stereotypes. Also interesting is the fact that, aside from their stoner obsession, Harold and Kumar are actually quite intelligent. Harold is an uptight investment banker regularly exploited by his contemptible co-workers, while Kumar is a jaded med school student who'd rather mooch off his father than hit the books. Cho (from American Pie, Better Luck Tomorrow) and Penn (Van Wilder, Malibu's Most Wanted) are appealing young actors and do what they can to make their characters more endearing than annoying.
When it's spinning off in its own crazy universe, Harold & Kumar has flashes of clever amusement—which only makes it all the more depressing when the film spends most of its time peddling the same old rude 'n' crude jokes. Comic lowlights include the now standard-issue bathroom stall-set “poop and fart” noise montage and a bunch of marijuana jokes that were funnier 30 years ago when Cheech and Chong made them.
As dumb-ass, dope-smoking comedies go, Harold and Kumar is more or less successful. It features a couple partially appealing, partially intelligent main characters. It's got a few good messages. (Although “just say no” is not one of them.) And it will certainly spark the interest of teenage stoners who've worn out their DVD copies of Dude, Where's My Car? and are now desperately searching for another fix of sex, drug and poop jokes.
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