With some films, the 3-D effect is tacked on to generate a few extra bucks at the box office. And then there are the ones like A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3-D CHRISTMAS. The wisps of smoke coming off those funny cigarettes so dear to the title characters hearts become prehensile as they float off the screen and into the audience. The burning Christmas tree tossed desperately through a bay window, a an underling being pelted with eggs that explode with all the drama of the Big Bang, a ping-pong ball wending its way through a cut-throat game of beer pong, are all wonderful, but the signature haze that hangs in the air adds a level of verisimilitude that is delightful and sets the mood as nothing else possible could.
Its six years since Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) escaped from Guantanamo, and two years since theyve seen each other. Harold is happily married to Maria (Paula Garces), and making big bucks as an investment banker, complete with his own protesters in the street dozens of floors below his office. Kumar is still living in the old apartment, directionless since failing a drug test at a crucial moment, losing his lady love, Vanessa, and being constantly pestered by his dweeby neighbor (Amir Blumenfeld). Harold, too, has a pesky new friend (Tom Lennon), whom tolerates with a subtle disdain for expediencys sake. That magic spark of true bromance that Harold and Kumar shared back in the day and through thick, thin, and Neil Patrick Harris, left when they parted company with each other.
At the magical hour of 4:20 on Christmas Eve, a mysterious package appears on Kumars doorstep, but addressed to Harold. Unwilling to keep the reminder of his former roommate and ex-best friend around, he arranges to drop it off at Harolds cushy two-story colonial on his way to Manhattan where a virgin is waiting to be deflowered by Kumars dweeby neighbor. Harold, meanwhile, is coping with a houseful of in-laws led by his snarling father-in-law, Carlos (Danny Trejo), a guy with a face like first-degree murder that is no indication of his deep-seated weakness for Christmas trees. A BIG weakness for them. In short order, the special tree Carlos brought for the holidays is in flames, and the pair find themselves on a mad quest for the perfect 12-foot Douglas fir that will make the holidays bright.
It clevery uses the time-honored tropes of a traditional holiday tale, the heart-warming with morals and fluffy small animals, though in this case, the fluffy small animal is a waffle-making robot. The morals, however, remain of the ci-mentioned traditional kind, despite what happens to the toddler, despite the deadly menace of the Ukrainian mob boss (Elias Koteas) who wants Harold and Kumar dead for something that looked bad but wasnt their fault. In fact the film is giddy string of good intentions, and poor follow throughs leading to increasingly unlikely situations that, nonetheless, make perfect sense on context. The writing is sharp, unflinchingly funny as it slyly extols family values while using the sort of crass trappings that send the stiff-necked and the sanctimonious into fits of apoplexy. Its also gracious enough to include another visit from Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing his way through a holiday extravaganza and explaining why he isnt dead. Harris once again takes absurdity to its limits and then some satirizing his own image and the cult of celebrity as filtered through a suitably salacious tabloid mirror.
At the center of the chaos are the performances by Cho and Penn, who left his White House job to return to the role. With deadpan earnestness, the souls of true, if unconventional, romantics they accept the odd, the peculiar, and the surreal, that life throws at them, resolutely shouldering on with what needs to be done while never for a moment losing their essential humanity. They take it seriously so that the audience doesnt have to. And this is why the uber-raunchiness is less grotesque than honest, part of parcel of who they are and the world they inhabit, where the smoke of illegal substances floats languidly in the air, and the important things, like friendship, family, and putting the needs of others first, are not lessons to be learned, but an ethical code of conduct followed (almost) without question. There is also a wickedly funny motif involving a toddler ingesting controlled substances, and ferociously gleeful stereotyping that transcends the mere politically incorrect. Like so much to be found here, it is so very wrong, and yet so very right, provoking laughter without a trace of guilt as the subtext of parenting as opposed to being a parent is ripped to teeny tiny and righteously rendered shreds.
A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3-D CHRISTMAS doesnt let itself off the hook either, making fun of its third dimension, the preposterous nature of callbacks to earlier films, and the whole idea of a Christmas movie while also paying homage to them all. Yet for all the fol-de-rol and crudity it is a sweet-natured thing that acknowledges the terrors of facing being an adult, proving that being a grown-up is not for sissies, and that best friends can weather anything with their hides, if not their dignity, intact.