February 07, 2005

MOVIES: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Danny Leiner, 2004)

OK, yeah, it's a stoner movie, and I'm at least 20 years older than the target audience, which is why I didn't bother with this when it was in theaters last summer. But I laughed pretty much nonstop through it.

John Cho and Kal Penn are a terrific comic team as (respectively) Harold and Kumar. Harold's an uptight junior analyst at an investment banking firm; Kumar's a more laidback type who's not all that excited about his current round of med school interviews. They're roommates, and on a typical Friday night, they've got nothing better to do than lounge around the apartment and get stoned.

On this particular Friday night, though, the boys get a craving for White Castle burgers, and head out on what turns into a disastrous night-long road trip. They get lost; they pick up a hitchhiking Neil Patrick Harris (playing a rather dissolute version of himself), who eventually steals their car; and have countless other misadventures along the way, and the less I say about them, the happier you'll be with the surprises.

Dumb young buddy movies are hardly a new idea, and the most obviously distinctive thing about this one is that the leads are Asian-Americans. The movie doesn't ignore this fact, and it has a lot of fun with the ways in which Harold and Kumar do and don't live up to the stereotypes. But the movie's never heavy-handed about that, either; it's not a message movie determined to teach us that Asian-Americans Are Just Like Everyone Else.

The movie isn't much more than a string of comic bits and gags, none of which have much connection to one another, all of them very loosely held together by the boys' increasingly desperate quest for those White Castle burgers. In any such movie, there are going to be jokes that don't work -- I could have done without an overly-long set of fart jokes, for instance -- but the hit rate is high enough here (and the jokes that do hit hit very well) that I enjoyed it a lot. The last five minutes are the semi-obligatory set up for a sequel, and I really hope that Cho and Penn will be reunited for Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam.

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