Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

I remember seeing a trailer for this on DVD and it was very funny.  It made me want to see the movie as soon as possible.  I got my chance on December 13, 2005, 2 days after screening Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
As you’ll discover in this previously unpublished review, I liked some of the movie but was disappointed with the overall result.  Over the years, I’ve become increasingly tougher on comedies.  As I get older, I’ve learned it takes a lot to make me laugh hard and often. 
There are moments in this movie that are so funny they will be remembered by all who see them.  It is so discouraging to me that this film, with the potential it had to be more consistently hilarious, misses more often than it connects. 

Again, you will probably disagree with me on this one.

By Dennis Earl

Harold is an Asian-American stuck in a dead-end job and Kumar is an Indian-American med student reluctant to follow in his family’s footsteps. Both live together and bond often over large quantities of marijuana. It is during one particularly productive day of pot smoking that they get inspired. Tired of ordering in and suffering from a profound case of chemically-induced munchies, they just happen to catch an advertisement for White Castle on TV. (You know, the fast food restaurant chain famous for their tiny burgers?) They immediately set out on an unsurprisingly long road trip to satiate their increasingly burdensome hunger pains.

This is the premise of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, a movie deeply indebted to Cheech & Chong and the American Pie franchise. There are some moments in this road comedy that are so funny but there are many more moments that are dead on the screen, leaving you frustrated that the movie never keeps the laughs coming on a consistent and continuous basis.

The best moments frequently don’t involve Harold & Kumar, who are not nearly as endearing as Wayne & Garth or the cast of the American Pie movies. Rather, it’s the supporting players who steal the show, most notably the very brave Neil Patrick Harris who plays himself. Believe it or not, he has done his career a world of good.

He appears in several scenes in the movie and kills in every one of them. He pops up as a surprise hitchhiker our heroes pick up because they’re lost and need directions. Harris is so unconcerned with their dilemma he proudly announces he’s “tripping balls” and needs some “fur burgers” in the worst way. (Gotta love his read on the words, “lap dance”.) He ends up stealing their car, leaving Harold & Kumar stranded during the second half of the movie.

Ryan Reynolds delivers his best performance on-screen in another scene-stealing cameo playing an emergency surgeon who outrageously flirts with Kumar after he saves the life of a gunshot victim. His gentle vocal touches and soft, physical gestures are so hilariously perfect you wonder why he isn’t this good all the time.

Unfortunately, many of the off-beat characters our heroes run into during the course of this movie are either hopelessly unfunny or too disturbing to be in a comedy. Take the character of Freakshow played by Christopher Meloni who’s better known for his dramatic Television work on Oz and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. When Harold & Kumar get into car trouble, he happens to be passing by, offers them a lift and assistance in fixing their vehicle. While in his truck, we get a better look at his face and it’s not pretty. He reminds me of a sad, old woman I used to see in my local grocery store all the time who had what looked like multi-shaped tumours all over her arms, legs, neck and face. He’s in such rough shape it seems a cheap shot to make fun of him, I don’t care how much puss is oozing out of him. It also doesn’t help that he’s a gospel singer who can’t hold a tune.

Then we meet his wife who is so ridiculously hot and amorous one wonders what her story is. She throws herself at Harold & Kumar who only bolt after Freakshow decides he wants in as well.

Other unfunny characters come and go: a racist, redneck New Jersey cop who looks a little like Will Ferrell (but isn’t), a cute Princeton student smitten with Harold who doesn’t share her feelings, an on-campus dope dealer with a bad memory, 2 beautiful British exchange students with the most disturbing bowel movements ever captured on film, and an annoying group of skate punks obsessed with picking on people and the word “extreme”. That got tiresome immediately. But, on the plus side, there’s an inspired moment when we learn about their musical tastes.

There’s also a love story of sorts involving Harold and Maria (the irresistible Paula Garces who looks even better here than she did in Clockstoppers). They live in the same apartment building and sometimes share an elevator together but neither are brave enough to start a conversation. Considering how awesome Maria’s physical appearance is, this is easily understandable from Harold’s perspective. There’s a nice scene near the end of the movie where they finally connect and engage in a spontaneous gesture of passion. One wonders if that would have made for a better story instead of the White Castle road trip.

This is a movie that is literally crammed with jokes. Some bits, like the dream sequence where Kumar fantasizes about having a relationship with a giant bag of marijuana, are hit and miss. Others hit completely while the rest miss completely.

As I think about this movie, I am reminded of why I loved American Pie and American Pie 2. It wasn’t just the fact they were well-made comedies that made my jaw and belly sore, there was also a contagious amount of sweetness spread amongst the characters. Even the jerkiest character, Stiffler, perhaps the funniest of them all, is endearing.

Harold doesn’t come to life until 2 scenes late in the picture and Kumar seems too cocky and reckless to warrant our empathy and support. But, to be fair, they do have a few funny moments here and there.

I have some affection for this movie despite its overall failure to impress and I hope the follow-up, Harold & Kumar Go To Amsterdam (due in 2007) focuses more on the burgeoning romance between Harold and Maria, and less on Harold and Kumar’s mutual love affair with weed. Speaking of which, is it just me or are these guys the least convincing stoners ever?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
1:59 a.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  

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