'A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas' Is Not as Crass as You Might Expect

Why don't more film franchises make holiday movies? "At Christmas" seems a no-brainer of a pitch—I almost prefer it to "in space"—but beyond the Griswolds and the Muppets there's pretty much only Ernest and the Friday series. At least all those are good company for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, and it for them.

Fans of the series will tell you why Harold and Kumar are entitled to a Christmas adventure, and you should believe at least half of them. It's fair to describe Go to White Castle and Escape From Guantanamo Bay as minor even by stoner-movie standards, but they're also as sweet-natured as anything else happening in film comedy. The same can be said for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas: It's dumb and silly as hell, but it's also the least crass holiday flick you'll see (or not) this year. Also: 3D!

For a movie featuring a superhuman baby, a sentient WaffleBot, and a violent sleigh-jacking, it starts off pretty grounded. Harold (John Cho) has a beautiful wife and a cushy financial job—as serious as the current Wall Street protests are, it's cathartic to see them as foils in what's the first of many elaborate 3D gags—while his old friend Kumar (Kal Penn) is getting high with a mall Santa (a sadly underused Patton Oswalt) in a parking garage. Harold and Kumar have gone separate ways, made new friends (Tom Lennon and Amir Blumenfeld, respectively), and now Harold has decided not to invite Kumar to his Christmas party. Will Kumar take the gargantuan joint left by Santa and teach Harold the true meaning of Christmas? In 3D?

As in the first two installments of the series, this is all just a setup for a series of silly, unrelated sequences. (Spoilers: They don't get to White Castle until the end of the original movie, but they do manage to escape from Guantanamo Bay pretty quickly.) And again this is where the movie comes to life, juggling weedy buddy humor with momentum and wit enough to bring out the satire in the dumbest, most random gags, from a trip to the Christmas tree lot to a flashback of a mother's bloody demise.

Some of the marketing offers A Very 3D Christmas as an edgy spin on the holiday movie, and I suppose to delicate sensibilities it may be that; there's cursing, a lot of drug use, and choice boobies in proximity to Jesus. It's more interesting, though, to look at how a determinedly lowbrow comedy can once again engage freely in racial and cultural humor while managing not to offend. This is an undervalued skill.

In most broad comedies, for instance, Harold's wife's big Hispanic father (Danny Trejo) and his big Hispanic family are self-sufficient gags, playing equally off easy sitcom and racial cliches; here the joke is mostly that big, scary Trejo is super-enthusiastic about Christmas in general and Christmas trees in particular, right down to his glorious sweater and the self-cultivated 12-year Douglas fir ("a family tradition") he forces on Harold's living room. (Also, he hates Koreans. Also: 3D!) Writer/creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg hide fine comedic detail below the surface of their silliness, and spare us the bristling patronizing that characterizes most ethnic humor.

Those same inconspicuous smarts are what really justify a Christmas installment of Harold & Kumar, as the core concept of the entire series, right down to its title, is the friendship at its center. That friendship has been neglected at the beginning of A Very 3D Christmas and works its way back to health from there, with help from hitmen, Santa Claus, and a musical appearance by series mainstay Neil Patrick Harris. (Harold and Kumar's new friends initially tag along, only to be abandoned to a subplot set at a gangster's children's Christmas party) The bromantic comedy thing has come and thankfully almost gone by now, but Harold and Kumar were always one of the most engaging and convincing pairings, even though they only ever seemed to try half as hard at it as everyone else. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas has a genuine interest in goodwill toward men; it doesn't get through it without a bit of sentimentality, but deal with it. It's a Christmas movie. In 3D.