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12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #9: ‘A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas’

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas review movie stoner John Cho Kal Penn claymation

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?

With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

With its gratuitous 3D effects (including loads of CGI pot smoke), A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas definitely feels like another entry in the stoner franchise. Consider the low humor, munchies, and plenty of Neil Patrick Harris (once again, reprising his man-whoring caricature) as damning pieces of evidence. The third installment even ups the ante, anticipating stoner expectations with psychedelic WaffleBots, newspaper headlines that explode like motion comics, and even a full-on claymation sequence. But how much is this a Christmas joint?

That a franchise like Harold and Kumar could A) actually be a franchise and B) stumble into its own mythology is a tough burger to bite, but for the less stoner-inclined, it’s been six years since the events of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Harold (John Cho), now sober, is a successful Wall Street business type while Kumar’s (Kal Penn) failed his medical profession, gaining twenty pounds and a gnarly breakup beard while toking away in grimy, stoner solitude. Oh, and “NPH” is presumed dead after he’s shot down by a gang of angry prostitutes. Not exactly rosy stuff. Thankfully the holidays should bring some warm back into everyone’s spirits — even if A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas is set in the middle of the Occupy protests and the aimless Kumar’s just learned he’s fathered a child.

In wholly expected fashion, Kumar crashes a mall santa’s (Patton Oswalt) gig looking for a Christmas Eve weed hookup, and the pair blaze up in Oswalt’s “sleigh” while trading names of punny holiday strands like “Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer” and “It’s a Weederful Life.” Kumar’s not having any of it, wondering why everything’s gotta be related to Christmas. (for the record, the Jewish schoolboys bought up all the “Hanukkah Hash” already.) Kumar may be a scrooge, but Harold’s in the full swing of Christmas trappings, going for broke on lawn ornaments and lights in the hopes of impressing his wife’s (Paula Garcés) intimidating father (Danny Trejo), who just so happens to be a Christmas nut; growing his own Christmas firs each year is but a taste of how serious he is about this stuff. Harold’s serious too, though — as he might put it, a prim and proper “adult” — and his weekend hinges on impressing his in-laws. Things get a little awkward when Kumar shows up at his doorstep to return a package, mysteriously addressed to Harold when the pair still lived in the same dingy apartment.

Like in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the story pitches a lot of crap at its tightly wound “square” counterpart, and also like the original, Harold eventually snaps under the pressure. Out all night chasing after an elusive “perfect tree” to replace the one Kumar burns down is a weak MacGuffin, and all the ugly Christmas sweaters in the world couldn’t make a holiday nut out of Danny Trejo’s rock solid bad ass persona. Likewise, Kumar cruises by on the knowledge that he could pursue a profession in the medical field — he resuscitates a concussed and bleeding Santa Claus after Harold shoots him out of the night sky — but he’d rather just kick back and smoke weed all day. The crassness is the same (kids on cocaine, poop jokes, boobs galore) and the jokes just as crude, but only sparing parts of A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas have a deliberate holiday bent to them. At least Santa wants the two to make amends and start hanging out again.

The trouble is, Cho and Penn are at their best when their stoner alter egos are at odds. If only by comparison, the more singular narrative in White Castle gets a kick to the groin here. It’s the series’ way of telling its two crutches to get over themselves. Stressed about landing the perfect weekend? Can’t get your shit together? Relax. How exactly Harold’s highstrung mentality and Kumar’s “devil may care” worldview align is a bit perplexing, but it’s a hazy kind of logic the films have run on for two installments already. There’s a weed for whatever ails you, but ya still need to get it together on your own. We can’t all be pals with Neil Patrick Harris.

Way #1: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)

Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)

Way #5: Jingle All the Way

Way #6: Santa’s Slay

Way #7: Scrooged

Way #8: The Ref

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