Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 31, 2012)
Most holiday movies shoot for the kiddie or family audience, but every once in a while, something more “adult” comes along. That was the path followed by 2003’s Bad Santa and it’s the same audience sought by 2011’s A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.
The third film in the series – after 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and 2008’s Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay - Very comes set six years after the last flick’s events and finds the leads at different places in life. Kumar (Kal Penn) remains the eternal slacker; he got kicked out of med school after he failed a drug test, and he continues to do little more than get stoned. On the other hand, Harold (John Cho) lives the Wall Street life and is married to Maria (Paula Garcés), his cute neighbor from the first movie.
Harold goes through a mix of family pressures. Maria pushes him to have a baby, while her father Carlos (Danny Trejo) still doesn’t really accept him as a member of the family. Harold and Maria host her extended clan in a situation certain to create lots of stress for him.
Speaking of family, Kumar’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Ackles) tells him that she’s pregnant with his child. This acts as a wakeup call that prompts him to reassess his life and perhaps straighten up his act.
Before that can happen, a package for the long-departed Harold arrives at the old apartment he and Kumar used to share. Kumar delivers this to Harold and they reunite for the first time in two years.
When they open the package, they discover an enormous joint. Kumar wants to smoke it and lights it, but Harold refuses to participate. When the joint gets thrown away, it lands in the Christmas tree and torches it.
Carlos cares deeply about the need for a perfect Christmas tree, so Harold must locate a duplicate or risk the wrath of his father-in-law. This sets him on an adventure with Kumar as they chase after various replacement trees and experience the standard allotment of wacky hijinks along the way.
Neither of the first two Harold and Kumar movies made a ton of money, but I suspect they found good audiences on home video and fell into the “cult classic” territory. I can’t say either did much for me, but irreverent Christmas movies are hard to find, so I thought this one might provide a fun addition to the genre.
Alas, that wasn’t to be. On the positive side, I like the minor attempt to spice up the series via the change in the Harold/Kumar relationship. Guantanamo’s story opened literally right after the first movie’s events, while Very follows the span of many years, so we see real variations in the characters. Are they terribly different people? No, but it’s fun to the changes, and the moments in which Harold and Kumar reconnect are almost touching; all of us can relate to close relationships that fray, so those tentative moments provide surprising insight.
Don’t expect Very to be an emotional exploration of the bonds of friendship, though. The elements to which I occur offer a mild undercurrent and pass by quickly; they don’t create a major theme in the film.
Instead, Very can mostly be classified as “more of the same”: another Harold and Kumar, another quest. Instead of burgers or freedom, this time our heroes try to find a tree, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
While not a literal rehash of the first movie, Guantanamo felt awfully reminiscent of White Castle, and that continues to be true here. Some of the characters change and we get different situations, but the “quest” framework remains identical, and the prevalence of potty humor also continues to dominate.
When I saw White Castle, I did find some cleverness on display, and the same held true for Guantanamo. This continues to be the case for Very and its occasional laughs, but I think it too often goes gross/crass for their own sake. Too many of the scenes attempt a form of edginess that doesn’t really work, especially given how many sacred figures – literally – that Very lampoons. Sequences in which Jesus hangs out with hot topless babes and becomes jealous because Neil Patrick Harris steals his thunder or Santa gets shot in the head push no envelopes; they just seem tacky and like broad attempts to offend.
Very also displays a depressing reliance on inside jokes. We hear Harold referred to as “Sulu”, and Kumar alludes to working at the White House; both gags exist because Cho played Sulu in the 2009 Star Trek and Penn did work at the White House for a while. We also hear cracks about the crumminess of sequels. All of these seem forced and don’t amuse.
The film goes intentionally overboard with its 3D sequences, a trend that wears out quickly. We find a slew of slow-motion 3D segments, and these just make the movie plod. I understand that a film like this wants to mock the silliness of 3D, but a little of that would go a long way. The attempts to make fun of unnecessary 3D just end up as… unnecessary 3D.
Very occasionally amuses. Harris remains energetic as usual, and it’s cool to see his first Harold and Kumar stint after he came out of the closet; he makes fun of his gayness in an entertaining manner and he adds spark to the film. A few other gags find the target as well.
But there just aren’t enough to turn Very into a winner. Even at barely an hour and a half, it seems to run long and drag. The movie has its moments but remains hit or miss.
Catty footnote: Paula Garcés looks substantially bustier now than in the past. Did she get a boob job to add to the film’s 3D effects?