[4 November 2011]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Harold and Kumar have penises. You will likely remember this, if you’ve seen the first two Harold & Kumar outings. Still, in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, you will be reminded again, and again.
This as Kumar (Kal Penn) and Harold (John Cho) discuss, compare, and generally fret about their members, partly out of mutual affection and partly out of vague, culturally mandated competition. When the third movie begins, they’re actually separated. This seems a tear in the universe—at least according to Santa Claus (Richard Riehle)—who makes it his business to reunite them. Kal is, as ever, smoking. John is not smoking: he’s heard that weed reduces fertility and wants to make a baby with his wife Maria (Paula Garcés). Even as Harold worries in the burbs—with a lawn and a house full of Maria’s relatives visiting for the holidays—the film cuts over to Kumar, still parked on the sofa in the apartment he once shared with Harold. As much as he wants to keep focused on getting high, he’s interrupted by a visit from his ex, Vanessa (Danneel Harris). Yes, she’s pregnant, and Kumar is awesome.
He’s also surprised. Confessing that he’s stoned and can’t quite process the news coherently, Kumar again disappoints Vanessa, who duly complains that he’s still not a grownup man, but instead remains a child himself. Once she’s gone again, Kumar begins thinking, that he can be a good dad, if only he can get his mind of his next joint and prove his worthiness to Vanessa. At the same time, Harold is confronting his own dad anxieties: not only can he not find time to have sex with his ovulating wife, but he’s also feeling pointedly intimidated by her father, Mr. Perez (Danny Trejo). The sign of that intimidation? A Christmas tree.
That is, when the Perez clan arrives at Harold’s doorstep, complete with tattooed gangster brother and black-shawled grandmother, Mr. Perez announces immediately that his son-in-law’s faux white tree is inadequate and replaces it with a 12-foot Fraser fir he’s grown himself, for eight years. Hoping to impress the scary old man, Harold promises to decorate the fir while everyone else heads to midnight mass. Kumar shows up, disaster strikes, and the boys must find a new tree.
Between joints and trees and actual penises—and numerous other references to dicks and cocks and poles, including a gigantic claymation penis—the film finds again the theme everyone expects from a Harold & Kumar adventure. The quest for a replacement fir leads into New York City, with new best friends tagging along for both boys, Kumar’s stoner neighbor Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) and Harold’s office-mate Todd (Tom Lennon). The latter brings along his little girl Ava (played by triplets), who over the course of the evening is exposed to a series of drugs, from pot to coke to ecstasy, each moment of intoxication producing the child’s (digitized) reactions (munchies, itching, and super-speed), which lead in turn her caretakers’ reactions (along the lines of “Whoa”).
Ava—so rocked by her night out with Harold and Kumar—represents the sort of responsibility that they can’t quite imagine, the sort that looks hilarious when it’s missed so colossally. Another daughter, of the Ukrainian mobster Katsov (Elias Koteas), occasions a bit of mayhem, when she invites her online acquaintance Adrian to “deflower” her and, oh dear, dad appears unexpectedly and finds his girl, named Mary (Jordan Hinson), on her knees groping at Harold’s crotch when Katsov comes home. Dad instructs his bald and leather-jacketed minions to kill all four of the interlopers: the gunfire leads to a slow-motion flurry of coke powder and pillow feathers, while Harold and Kumar run for their lives and Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas.”
Their run from this bad dad is successful, but it also reinforces that the movie—and the franchise—is increasingly wearying, reusing images and ideas. The boys here move on to a few more efforts to secure a tree, including one that takes them to Neil Patrick Harris. He’s rehearsing a Christmas musical show, with dancers and nutcrackers and a backstage dressing room, where he reveals again that he’s not Doogie Howser. At this point in the Harold & Kumar teleology, Doogie’s embodiment of various threats to conventional masculinity is obvious, and expanded into Harris’ outness. This third film apparently can’t help but revisit the formula, again exposing a venal underside for the universally appealing Harris—again, a great good sport and able performer with all manner of dancing canes and other penis stand-ins.
The encounter this time has Harold and Kumar performing surprise that Harris somehow survived his seeming murder in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay. As he explains, Harris once more instructs Harold and Kumar as to the many uses of illusory male power. And once more, they’re slow on the uptake.