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Blu-ray Review: A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

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The stoner comedy has a long and glorious tradition… or something like that, I kind of forget how long and glorious the tradition may be.  Well, old or young, in its current formation, stoner comedies may be best represented by the Harold & Kumar franchise.  There are, to date, three Harold & Kumar feature films, the most recent of which, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, has just hit DVD and Blu-ray.  

Naturally, one might have some trepidation watching, at home, a film like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas because, you know, it has “3D” in the title.  Well, not to worry, for the non-3D versions they’ve shortened the title to A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas on the box.  No 3D?  No Problem.

Okay, that is their theory anyway, and for the most part it pans out here.  Watching the movie, one will definitely notice a number of effects which have been created with the 3D-ness of the theatrical release (or 3D blu-ray) in mind, but the most obvious ones are early on and they don’t detract all that much from the film itself.  The serious and stern folks out there would argue that there isn’t a whole lot to detract from – that Harold & Kumar have nothing to truly offer, and, even if they did at one time, it’s surely entirely played out by the third go-round.  The serious and stern folks are wrong.

By no means whatsoever is any Harold & Kumar outing genius, but at their best they provide a huge number of truly laugh-out-loud moments; A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas provides chuckles, guffaws, and more than one belly laugh.  It isn’t a long movie—96 minutes in the unrated form—but it does manage to keep one laughing most of the way through.

The film picks up a number of years after Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and begins with our titular characters, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), having ended their friendship.  Harold has decided that he wants an adult life, whereas Kumar is still perfectly happy to keep smoking up.  Harold has gone off and gotten married to Maria (Paula Garces), whereas Kumar has had a falling out with Vanessa (Danneel Harris).  It is fate in the form of a misaddressed Christmas gift which bring our two heroes together again and send them off on another ridiculous adventure through the streets of New York City.

The quest this time out (on which they are joined by Tom Lennon and Amir Blumenfeld) is nothing so mundane as a trip to White Castle.  No, this time they have to find the perfect Christmas tree so that Maria’s father, Mr. Perez (Danny Trejo), doesn’t end up hating Harold for all time.  There was a tree at one moment at Harold’s house early on, but, well, it doesn’t matter, let’s leave it at they have to go get a tree.  Along the way, naturally, they upset the Russian mob, get a baby high on more than one drug, eat at White Castle, fantasize about showering nuns, get claymated, and meet a Wafflebot.

It isn’t that the movie is genius, it’s just that it’s hysterical.  One person with whom this reviewer watched the movie laughed repeatedly during it, but kind of hated themselves for doing so.  The problem, it seems, wasn’t a lack of humor, but the consistently low brow nature of the film.  This isn’t Woody Allen and jokes aren’t going to come from a deep understanding of psychoanalysis and the best place to get a bagel on the Upper West Side., this is Harold & Kumar and the jokes are going to revolve genitalia and drugs.

If there is a part of the movie which I find disappointing, it’s the relatively toned-down nature of Neil Patrick Harris’ character this time out.  Harris appeared in the first two movies as well, and while the character he portrays here is still a terrible human being, he doesn’t feel as over the top as he has in the past.  Oh, his antics with Jesus are still pretty wrong, but one can’t help but feel as though they ought to have been even more wrong.

That, though, is a small problem.  A far greater problem is the inconsistent nature of the visuals on the Blu-ray release.  Some dark  scenes look excellent, but there are a couple that have some extra noise and a flicker to them.  The claymation sequence is beautifully detailed and full of color, as are the looks we get into Harold’s home (in fact, most of the film looks good, just not all of it).  Much of the movie takes place at night, but even in shadow it is still easy to make out what is going on.  However, one never gets too far away from random shots which flicker or have an abundance of visual noise, and that is distressing.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is far more consistent, offering up plenty of bass during the more action-oriented scenes and always providing a great sense of location (the DTS-HD MA track is only available on the theatrical version, the extended version gets a 5.1 Dolby Digital track).  There is nothing muddled nor overblown about the sound design, and one won’t need to sit there constantly adjusting the audio level depending on the type of scene.

The extras included on the release are relatively minimal.  The blu-ray comes with a DVD copy (it is a single, two-sided, disc) and a digital copy which, sadly, is Ultraviolet and not iTunes compatible.   There are also a series of short comedic bits with Tom Lennon riffing on the movie or the production, some of them work well but others are less amusing.  The only true behind the scenes piece is a discussion of the claymation sequence in the film and accompanying storyboards.  It doesn’t really go deep enough into the process, but it is nominally interesting.  There are also a few deleted scenes included.

Of course, if you’re truly the imagined target audience for a Harold & Kumar feature, you probably aren’t going to care about the lack of special features – all that will matter is that the jokes land and make you laugh.  It is another good outing for Cho, Penn, and company, and hopefully there are many more adventures to come.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.