Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/06/05 12:47:44

"It's what you crave, comedy-wise."
3 stars (Just Average)

There are three reasons anyone would actually bother eating at White Castle: they are drunk, they are high, or they are insane. Harold and Kumar are in the second category. In the appropriately titled “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle,” two post-college stoners blaze up one Friday night and then, on the way down from their collective buzz, witness a White Castle commercial on TV, forming a craving that no other food (or near-food, in the case of Whiteys) will satisfy. And so their epic night out begins.

That the movie is dumb goes without saying. But is it funny? You betcha. The film is everything “Dude, Where’s My Car?” wanted to be in its lovable dumbness. No surprise, then, that “Harold & Kumar” is directed by Danny Leiner, who also made “Dude.” That was his warm up; “Harold & Kumar” is where he gets it right. Or, at least, right enough to get plenty of laughs.

Where the movie works - other than in its occassional piece of irresistible lunacy - is in its bucking of conventions. For starters, its heroes aren’t your everyday stoners, or even the dimwits we’ve come to expect, but highly intelligent guys who are merely trying to put off the real world for just one more weekend. Harold (John Cho) is stuck in a number-crunching cubicle job; Kumar (Kal Penn) is purposely botching his med school interviews because he doesn’t want to be a doctor but enjoys the free ride his dad gives him as long as he’s applying.

That Harold is Korean and Kumar is Indian is important and unimportant at the same time, and that’s what makes “Harold & Kumar” click so well. These are not stereotypes in the least bit, and yet they’re always running into others who see them as stereotypes. It’s a comedy that plays on expectations and perhaps does a better job at defining the American melting pot than any ultraserious Message Movie ever could.

There are clever bits on race relations and the struggle to keep one’s cultural identity while trying to blend into one’s own twentysomething lifestyle. Harold fears being seen as a “Twinkie” - “yellow on the outside, white on the inside” - but also despises being lumped into the Asian-good-at-math category. As for Kumar, his whole family is made up of surgeons and specialists, and the last thing he wants is to be “just another” Indian doctor. These are characters that want to let their heritage be a part of them, but not that which defines them.

Switching gears, the other sign of smarts is the notion of White Castle as product placement. Sure, you could see this movie as one long ad for Sliders, a sell-out that even takes over the title, but look closely and you’ll see it’s all done with a wink. The characters aren’t just mentioning Whiteys; they’re orating about them, long, poetic speeches praising the glorious taste of White Castle hamburgers. It’s all so goofily over the top that it quickly becomes a parody of the very notion of product placement.

Or maybe I’m just thinking about it too seriously. For this is, after all, a movie that spends an entire scene on a diarrhea joke (which is - surprise - actually kinda funny despite itself). So let’s scoot back from the intellectual stuff and ponder the laughs, which are everywhere. Cho and Penn make a fun comic duo, both of them gifted with a knack for the funny. They carry the picture effortlessly, and we can’t get enough of these likable stoners. (Wisely, they play it less like the stoned obnoxiousness of a Cheech and Chong and more like a huggable dimness of a Wayne and Garth with college degrees.) Leiner keeps the comedy cruising ahead at a quick, enjoyable pace, and the screenplay, by newcomers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, contains enough “what the frick?” moments to keep the yuks unpredictable. (The cameo from Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious, but the one from the I-forgot-he-could-be-this-funny Jamie Kennedy is even better, thanks to its unexpected weirdness.)

The movie doesn’t always click, of course. The movie takes a few too many wrong turns, most notably an extended scene in which our boys come up against a boil-covered backwoods weirdo named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni). It’s too forced a character, too obvious in its attempts for the lowbrow. Other awkward moments pop up like this from time to time, keeping the movie from hitting the high notes (no pun intended) that it almost reaches. Still, there’s a perpetual likability to the film and to the characters that we’re willing to sit through the groaners.

My favorite part of the film has little to do with Harold and Kumar. Throughout the movie, the leads keep running into their neighbors, a couple of Jewish stoners (Eddie Kaye Thomas and David Krumholtz) who themselves are on a post-buzz quest. It’s as if these guys are in their own movie, an alternate universe version of “Harold & Kumar” that keeps crossing paths with our own, and how smart of the filmmakers to hint at the idea of a parallel story that we never quite see in its entirety. I loved these characters (their early attempts to see a naked Katie Holmes in “The Gift” is a keeper), and what fun it would be to see the other movie some day. “Goldstein & Rosenberg Go To Hot Dog Heaven.” I’d be first in line for that one.

Or at the very least, put them in the “Harold & Kumar” sequel. Those guys demand a second adventure.

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