3 stars (out of 4)
"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" will not win an Oscar.
Directed by Danny Leiner ("Dude, Where's My Car?"), this stoner buddy movie is filled with raunchy, gross-out humor. It's immature, clunky and probably the best bit of groundbreaking social commentary we've seen in years.
Yes, you read me right--years.
Quite simply, the movie is about an Asian-American guy named Harold Lee (John Cho) and an Indian-American guy named Kumar Patel (Kal Penn). Harold and Kumar are best friends and roommates. They smoke a lot of pot. They get the munchies. They decide that the only way to sate their hunger is to eat White Castle. Lots and lots of White Castle. They drive through New Jersey searching for the famed little burgers and, along the way, encounter a rabid raccoon, a racist cop, one busty sexpot and Neil Patrick Harris playing himself.
While a lot of this works, some is decidedly flat and the editing appears to have been carried out with a sledgehammer--with gag after gag and no transitions.
But just as Mike Judge's "Office Space" has become an anthem for all us Gen X cubicle slaves, "Harold and Kumar" will resonate deeply with anyone who attended high school in the 1990s and at least saw a joint.
And some of it is, dare I say, revolutionary--because Harold and Kumar are as American as apple pie. Harold's not a genius and Kumar's not a terrorist. And their Jewish buddies down the hall--Rosenberg and Goldstein--are not lawyers or CEOs or rabbinical students. The Asian and Indian kids aren't the comic relief, they're the stars.
Leiner didn't create some sort of multiculti utopia--he made a stupid comedy, trading in pretty blatant ethnic humor (the phrase "Tank you, come again" has never so often been uttered on screen). Just as when in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Larry David assumes the black guy in line at the valet stand must be the valet, it's the kind of humor that can be a little uncomfortable to identify with or laugh at--a.k.a. the best kind.
From the "Marijuana Kills" commercial the guys watch while stoned on their couch to the college dealer who calls himself a "business hippie," the film is packed with knowing pop culture references and characters aimed directly at people under 35, the same generation who is making this nation's old ethnic lines blur.
"Harold & Kumar" is not a political screed (though the white in White Castle is not just a paint color). It's not a feel-good look at how wonderful America is either. Cho and Penn, who are both very funny and relaxed here, shouldn't be poster children for diversity or tolerance. And I'd bet the filmmakers would be thrilled if people thought of their movie as just a hilarious slacker comedy.
"Harold and Kumar" is overt in its humor and subversive in intent. Again, it won't win an Oscar.
But it's one small step for Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans in crude, juvenile stoner flicks, and one giant leap for mankind.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times