'A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas' trades wit for absurdity

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The “Harold and Kumar” franchise has long been a reliable source for racially-charged political humor sprinkled in among sharper-than-expected stoner satire. The long wait between sequel “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” and the 3D third installment has made the characters grow up a little, while staying as immature as possible and significantly less socially relevant.

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas” finds its heroes estranged: Harold (John Cho) is married and shooting for a kid, while Kumar (Kal Penn) has turned from slacker med student to just plain slacker, with a coarse beard to boot. When Kumar receives a package addressed to Harold, he delivers it to his friend’s swanky new home where mishaps predictably ensue that send the pair into New York City searching for the perfect Christmas tree on December 24.

While “Guantanamo Bay” was often a strong follow-up to the original film, its stakes got so preposterously high that the equally elevated heroes seemed ill-equipped to deal with the illegal immigration, Cyclops monsters and Homeland Security agents the film threw at them. “3D Christmas” keeps the stakes relatively low, and instead ups the absurdity. Throughout the film, Harold and Kumar contend with a drug-addled infant, Russian mobsters and a gravely wounded Santa Claus. Unfortunately, much of what made the first two films so memorable was their ability to take square aim at politics and race, something mostly missing from the third installment. While Harold’s father-in-law (Danny Trejo) makes a few Korean jokes, that’s more or less the end of it, and the film trades in its biting social commentary for a few dull criticisms of religion.

Even so, “3D Christmas” is a worthy sequel, making the most of the 3D it was shot in. The 3D here is pure gimmick, filled with smoke rings and stop-motion sex organs and even an impressive, lovingly rendered beer pong shot. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson is completely shameless in using the medium in as many juvenile and hilarious ways as possible. Perhaps the best 3D sequence is an elaborate dance number fueled by franchise staple Neil Patrick Harris. It’s an engaging sequence that uses the added dimension for depth of field and impressive imagery instead of gimmicky punch lines. Harris is as good a sport as ever, and manages to be even more outrageous here than he was in the second film — no small feat, as his cameo there had Harris branding a prostitute before being shot to death in Texas.

Even if the jokes may not be as pointed, the gentler sense of humor works well in telling the story of Harold and Kumar’s inevitable reunion, letting the two characters rediscover their friendship just as the audience is remembering just why we enjoy watching these two goofy idiots in the first place. While the story’s emotional climax is too convenient, it doesn’t dilute the film’s effectiveness in capturing the spirit of male camaraderie that can be too easily lost as the participants become adults.

“A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas” proudly flaunts the traditions of every Christmas movie ever made, right down to its early November release date. Its crude distortion of holiday sentiment and various Christmas movies, combined with the inherent laughs from its always-effective lead duo, makes for a quite entertaining third installment in the series.

Published on November 4, 2011 as: Stoner Christmas parody trades wit for absurdity