It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the first installment of the Harold and Kumar franchise was one of the raunchiest, funniest and insightful stoner comedies (nay, comedies) ever made. Maybe the same couldn’t be said for the sequel. Critics panned Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay as recycled, lifeless and nowhere near as inspired as White Castle. Whatever. I laughed. That’s what mattered and that’s what I expected to do when I went to see A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. If anything H&K, as a genre and a franchise, shows no pretention or scruples when choosing from its comedic arsenal, but that doesn’t mean that the quality and intensity of the laughs hasn’t been in decline since the end of the first H&K movie.

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas picks up with our favorite anti-heroes six years on and estranged. Harold (John Cho) has gone straight, trading in the bong rips and shotguns for the suburban life and a corner office. Kumar (Kal Penn), on the other hand, has sunk deeper into the throes of stoner oblivion, sporting a beard and a ratty ski vest, and is so toasted he has a hard time paying attention even when his ex drops in to announce that she’s pregnant.

When Kumar receives a package addressed to Harold, he takes it upon himself to deliver it personally. Through seemingly divine intervention the beloved Douglas fir of Harold’s intimidating father-in-law (Danny Trejo, anyone), a Noel-phile with a particular disdain for Koreans, is burnt to a crisp and the duo must venture into Manhattan to find a replacement tree before the rest of the family returns home from midnight mass.

Ticking clock aside, as with the other two movies, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas uses the same formula of a banal journey with continuingly absurd complications (a romantic tryst with a mobster’s daughter), an even weirder roster of characters (an insecure, pancake-making robot), and they-just-went-there gags (a coked-up infant). But unlike Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the journey seems more like a mish-mash of laughter inducing sequences rather than a progressively dynamic plotline. This is most evident in the tripped-out claymation bit and in the dance number with Neil Patrick Harris. While NPH does garner some chuckles, in particular the flashback of NPH stealing Jesus’ girls and getting booted out of heaven, they’re not near enough. In the past, he’s played an integral part in the plot, enough to reoccur, but here his cameo feels short-lived and incidental.

However, this movie does sell itself, depending on how you look at it, as a Christmas special. So in true “special” format, the movie takes on the quality of a variety-type show, spoofing more traditional and familiar yuletide flicks. Besides the proverbial doff to the 60’s-70’s claymation, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas re-imagines The Christmas Story flagpole scene, but this time with a very different appendage. It’s not that I’m opposed to this take on the franchise – the holiday special – it’s just that after three years I was hoping for something more. I was hoping to laugh so hard I would cry, hear jokes that would enter the counterculture canon, and see a movie that would truly up the stoner ante the first film set.

As far as the 3D goes, H&K made a predictable farce of the technology, starting from the very beginning when Harold’s assistant thrusts his two thumbs-up into the screen. If that’s not enough to prove the movie’s absurdist awareness, there are plenty of billowing clouds of pot smoke, confetti showers, slow-motion semen and hot maple syrup to back it up. Thinking about this and considering the relative lack of the technology anywhere else, it seems pointless really to criticize H&K’s use of 3D. It’s not so much of a gimmick, rather another layer of mindless fun, one, however, perhaps not worth the ticket price.

Like its predecessors A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas doesn’t aim to transcend the genre or produce meaningful content. While some running themes of the movie are aging, growing up, and the lasting bonds of friendship, these are still tackled in true, superficial H&K fashion with off-the-cuff humor and a noncommittal intimacy and warmth. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas will have you laughing but it’s unclear whether the two potheads will ever be as much fun as they were when seeking out those tender little White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions.

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