A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, R, 96 mins.

Harold: John Cho / Kumar: Kal Penn / Maria: Paula Garces / Goldstein: David Krumholtz / Rosenberg: Eddie Kaye Thomas / Male nurse: Ryan Reynolds / Dr. Willoughby: Fred Willard / Billy: Ethan Embry

Directed by Danny Leiner /  Written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE just may be one of the more weird and offbeat film comedies of recent memory.  Not only does it feature two leads (one is Asian American, his buddy is Hindu American) that are in a desperate search for all things that’ll make them high, but the ultimate quest that precludes their one night journey is a trip to the world renowned (I think it's world renowned) WHITE CASTLE for the ultimate in burger sustenance. 

Oh, and along the way, they crash a party at Princeton University, save a gunshot victim in a surgery room, get arrested for jaywalking and punching a cop (accidentally, of course), ride a cheetah to safety as well as a hang glider, and if that were not enough, they get their car stolen by Neil Patrick Harris (who plays himself), which leads to Harold, in absolute shock, cry out, “Did Doogie Howser just steal my bloody car!?” 

Okay, this all sounds ridiculous, but director Danny Leiner (DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR?) and first time screenwriters John Herwitz and Hayden Schlossberg manage to do something that a lot of similar themed, gross-out teen comedies of the day have failed to do -  they have crafted a very, very funny film that does not completely rely on humor involving bodily functions.  Well, in hindsight, they are two moments were the laughs are drawn out at the expense of certain manners of natural human relief, as well as one that involves a tow truck driver with an inhuman number of terrible boils all over his body. 

Yet, there are other inspired moments that work their way above these lesser scenes.  The film is not funny because it's smutty, crude, or in bad taste.  It's all of that, but it creates some moments that are such small gems of absurdist and surrealistic comedy that you’ll find that you are laughing just too hard to become vilified by the antics of the main characters.  By the time they two stoner heroes pick up a hitchhiking Neil Patrick Harris, who just happens to be in the middle of a highway coked up out of his mind and “looking for some tail,” you come to realize that, well…you just have to go with this film.  This may be the first film in recent memory that involves two main leads that are Asian and Indian respectively, where the Indian goes to the Asian, “Why is Neil Patrick Harris so horny?”  I kind of left the theatre wondering that myself, but I digress. 

The film is kind of a standard teen comedy fair (angst ridden teens and twenty something’s that hate their jobs, love chicks, try to score with said chicks, and want to smoke reefer…lots of reefer,  and engage in all activities dysfunctional).  Yet, the film is more than just another pot-invested Cheech and Chong film.  Think of it more as a sensitive, multicultural CHEECH AND CHONG.  In our PC days, what else could we really ask for?  I think that is where a lot of the film’s goofy and oddball charm arrives from.  This is not a film about middle-upper class college kids getting high and seeing trouble at every turn; this is a film that sort of celebrates the cultures of its two main leads while lampooning them at the same time.  After several scenes of the two misfits being antagonized by the racial slurs and a verbal tirade of insults thrown at them by a bunch of rowdy jocks, the two enact their revenge in an inspired moment with Kumar flipping them the bird and yelling, “Please cum’ a’gain!”  Its one of those scenes that’s deceptive in its simple attempts to get a laugh, but there is an underlying message there as well. 

The film stars John Cho (the Asian from AMERICAN PIE that referred to Stiffler’s mom as a “milf”) as Harold and Kal Penn (last seen in the absolutely dreadful NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER) as Kumar, Harold’s Indian roommate who seems to take great pride in flunking out of all of his medical school interviews, not because he's stupid, but because he’s really a genius who is just having too much darn fun.  As the film opens Harold, working at a New Jersey bank, gets suckered into working some overtime by doing the jobs that two fellow office slackers leave him with (Harold, it seems, is too nice to turn them down, not to mention the fact that he does not wish to get fired). 

After a hard day’s work he returns home to his apartment to hang loose with his roommate and relax by smoking some pot…well…a lot of pot.  The pot is so powerful that it appears to eventually strengthen their  appetites so much that the only way they can curb it is by going to, you guessed it, White Castle.  They see the commercial for White Castle, which seems to equate eating their hamburgers humorously to a first sexual experience, and that is all that is necessary to convince the boys to seek out the ultimate fast food high. 

Well, things do not go very well for our two hapless characters.  It seems that the nearest White Castle has been closed down, which leads them to search out for the next nearest one.  A fast food clerk at the competition (Anthony Anderson, in a small, but very funny cameo) enlightens them as to where the closet Castle is.  Unfortunately, Harold and Kumar lose their valuable pot stash, which leads them to nearby Princeton University. 

Just when they think they can score not only with a new stash of pot, but with a couple of very cute, but curiously disturbing young college girls, the two manage to leave in quite a rush and go down a highway that only leads to their situation snowballing into something far more worse.  Their adventures bring them face to face with a possible rabid raccoon; a run-in with an enormously (and revoltingly) kinky and sexual promiscuous farm couple; several homosexual come-ons; many meetings with some obnoxious skateboarding punks; a meeting with a racist and badass cop that leads to a stay in jail for Harold; a special effects laden scene involving a fearless jungle predatory; and one of the most unusual meetings with a celebrity ever (an I mean ever) in a feature film. 

Neil Patrick Harris shows up as hitchhiker Neil Patrick Harris, and his willingness to satirize and make fun of his own image is startlingly funny and bold of the actor.  Not too many actors would be willing to go to the extremes that Harris does here with mocking himself, and his all-too-brief cameo is one of the comic highlights of the year.  Harris, drugged up on Ecstasy, meets up with the lads and is picked up by them.  The two are shocked by the fact that they have just picked up a major celebrity like Harris, who was the star of their favourite TV show, but what they are more shocked by is just how, well, hedonistic their idol really is. 

Harris comes across as condoning some very un-Doogie-like behaviour, who confesses to “nailing” all of his female co-stars on his show, not too mention his undying ability to “score” with chicks as quickly as possible, strippers to be precise, as a painfully funny reveal later in the film shows us.  There is also a series of other funny celebrity cameos, one in particular that was a chucklefest shows a surgeon, played by Ryan Reynolds,  that seems to be turned on by by Kumar’s quick wits in a surgery room. 

The film’s screenplay is crude, yet sort of perversely reflective in its humor.  There is a lot of scatological usage of every R- rated film’s favourite f word, but the film also features wall-to–wall ethnic jokes, which are not really all that offensive, especially when several of them are perpetrated by the main characters themselves (one humorous aside shows Harold expressing his dislike of a Princeton female friend because she is “too stereotypically Asian” and him, at one point in the film, being referred to by Kumar as a Twinkie…you know…”yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.”)  The film is not racially funny at its characters, but with its characters and it demonstrates that, much like in the Farrelly Brothers’ STUCK ON YOU, you can make a funny film that manages to have humor directed at its characters that does not hurt or make fun of them, but sort of reveals hidden depths.  Harold and Kumar may be pot-smoking rejects, but they are also smart, inquisitive, and disarmingly charming dudes.  Yes, they do get into trouble, but they are played with a delicate balancing act of sensitivity and over-the-top charisma.  They are not presented as racial stereotypes either, but just your average American horny teenagers. 

The film also generates a lot of laughs beyond the expense of their ethic heritage.  There is one fantastic moment that just may be one of the strangest fantasies ever, where Kumar, after just realizing that he has uncovered a ridiculously large bag of weed in a police station, fantasizes about what he could do with such a large stash, and let me confidently tell you that it does not just involve smoking it.  This moment is a sublime scene of inanity that works famously.  There are also a couple of other good gags that are chiefly for film lovers only, as when an insult laid out to Harold of “better luck tomorrow” is screamed out at him (in direct reference to his appearance in the 2003 film of the very same title).  There is also a small scene that is perversely funny that involves seeing a roommate grooming a particular region of hair growth that you would otherwise not be privy to, especially in your own room for that matter. 

I am really kind of at loss for words with going any further with this film.  HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE is in the wickedly silly tradition of BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and the WAYNE’S WORLD films, and it will, no doubt, later achieve a merit of cult status when it hits video.  Of course, the people that are expecting another sex-filled, drug induced romp ala AMERICAN PIE will not be disappointed, but the film is also funny beyond its bathroom humor.  It takes great pride in its overt silliness and does not feel the need to be slavish to some sort of overriding principle that there are limits to what you can do for a laugh.  The best comedies make us laugh, pure and simple, and they exist on that primal and visceral level.  Mel Brooks once said that he would do whatever he had to do to get a laugh out of his audience.  Well, when I saw the scene where Neil Patrick Harris is driving by in a luxurious convertible with his hands all over the naked breasts of a stripper while dancing to some overstuffed rap music, I just was overcome with a sort of sick respect for the film; any movie willing to go to those lengths just has to be appreciated and not lamented upon. 

  H O M E