At least the studios waited until after Halloween to release the year's first holiday movie.
Four days to be exact. But who’s counting? Used to be that holiday movies hit a few weeks later — on Thanksgiving. Not anymore or that anyone notices. For years, many of the big box and major hardware stores have started their Christmas decoration, lights and stuff displays in August.
Christmas — that used-to-be most sacred of holidays — has become a joke.
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Which leads us back into the first holiday movie of the year. It, too, is a joke. A good one. In fact, lots of good ones. A more mature and grown-up Harold has started a successful and lucrative career for a financial firm. He’s married and planning a family.
Harold married a Latino lady, but her dad — nicely done by an intimidating Danny Trejo — hasn’t accepted him. He and the rest of the family show up at Harold’s for Christmas. Dad brings a very special tree. It’s one he grew himself, and the tree is tied to his late mother, who was murdered by a Korean gang.
Harold — of course — is Korean.
The former best friends are estranged. Kumar who hasn’t quite grown up. Still a major league stoner, Kumar delivers a package on Christmas Eve to Harold, who he hasn’t seen in two years. While Harold’s wife and family are out doing Christmas things and in the process of the package delivery, Kumar burns up the father-in-law’s special tree.
Now they have to find another tree. That leads the pair on an adventure and encounters with gangstas selling Christmas trees, a buddy with a toddler who keeps “accidentally” getting high and a dangerous Russian mobster and his virgin daughter. The film pokes fun of itself and of Kal Penn’s real life position as associate director of the Office of Public Liaison in the Obama administration. It ends with a funny bit with Santa Claus.
Toward the end of the getting mushy middle, after a terrific claymation sequence, and when the film starts to run out of gas, an encounter with Neil Patrick Harris picks things back up.
Like he did in the first film, the mega-talented Harris steals the show with the film’s funniest bit. He does an outrageous musical number, denies being gay and then uses being gay for his own evil purposes.
Did I say a more mature and grown-up Harold and Kumar?
Yes and no. The humor still centers around copious amounts of drugs, topless babes and sex. The side story about the friend — done with tongue totally in cheek by Reno 911's Thomas Lennon — whose toddler accidentally ingests pot, cocaine and Ecstasy is a bit tasteless.
Funny? Yes. It’s Harold and Kumar, so tasteless is expected.
That said, the two are hitting 30. While Kumar is still a walking disaster area and doing way too much pot, he seems to be wanting a life change. Harold’s has already changed, and while life is good and he’s happy, there’s the unfinished business of tossing away his life-long friend.
As actors and people, Penn and his pal John Cho have matured, too. Penn did the very nice The Namesake a couple of years ago and has ventured into politics. Cho’s career has taken an uptick and boldly went into brave new worlds in the new Star Trek film as Lt. Sulu.
Creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schulossberg have grown, too. Well, sort of. They take their favorite, and only, characters on their fourth adventure, and like they did with the other two films and the short, Hurwitz and Schulossberg leave no stone or stoner unturned. They toss just about everything possible at the screen hoping that at least something will stick.
Unlike the first two films, for the most part, most of it does. Maturity is a good fit.
Having a visionary director helps. This is Todd Strauss-Schulson's first major release. Strauss-Schulson keeps his film tight, fast and to the point. In the end, he offers up a nice morsel about what’s really important in life — friendship.
The bottom-line: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas has lots of — um — highs, very few lows.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for mature themes, language, nudity, sex, drug use. It opens Friday, November 4 at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and the Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.