It’s always good to have a goal. For Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn), that goal is eating as many sliders — mini-burgers, essentially, if you don’t know what those are — from White Castle as humanely possible. You see, they’re stoners, and when stoners get the munchies and are fixated on a specific food, nothing can stop them. As a result, a trip to White Castle is necessary, even if it might put both of their lives in danger. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a road and stoner comedy, one whose primary joke is subverting any and all stereotypes the main characters come across.
Race, gender, appearance, class, the location of one’s birth — all of it is extensively made fun of in this movie. How many films have its lead characters smoking pot with a cheetah and then getting on its back for a ride in lieu of a car? This one does, folks. It’s terribly executed, probably in large part because of the really low budget and rather large ambitions of the film, but at least it happens and it kind of works, especially if you happen to not be completely “with it” while you watch the film.
In fact, the low budget, leading to awful CGI and green screens, might be more charming than if executed well. I mean, I can’t say this with certainty, but I’m almost sure that this type of thing might actually be more enjoyable — even if it’s in a “so bad it’s good” type of way — than if it was done properly or with any skill. It looks awful if sober, but if you’re in the same state of mind that our heroes spend much of the film in, perhaps it makes the film even more enjoyable.
I don’t really want to describe many of the scenes or jokes, as that would ruin some of the surprise. I will say that many of them are funny, and this is a film I can recommend for its humor, as long as you aren’t easily offended and recognize what the movie is trying to do. It isn’t racist; it’s making fun of racists. When a black man is beaten and treated unfairly by what seems like an entire police squadron, it’s funny not because the black man is being beaten on, but because the film is making fun of the situation. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but you really just have to see the film to understand.
It also features some enjoyable cameos, the most prominent of which comes from Neil Patrick Harris, playing a fictionalized — or perhaps idealized — version of himself. He is a hitchhiker that Harold and Kumar pick up on the side of the road, and ends up becoming a very hilarious part of the film. Ryan Reynolds and Malin Åkerman are perhaps the most “known” of the other cameos.
There’s a pretty sweet B-story involving Harold’s crush on a neighbor named Maria (Paula Garcés), a couple of recurring stories, like one involving some tough gangsters — the payoff for which is quite enjoyable — and countless scenes where the characters smoke more pot than is advisable, especially with all of the driving they have to do. It’s all fine and it’s mostly funny. I don’t really know what else anyone would want from it. It’s not the best comedy ever made, but for a 90-minute stoner comedy, you could do a lot worse, even if you are sober while watching it.
John Cho and Kal Penn are the main reasons that the film works. They have an easygoing chemistry and impeccable comedic timing, while managing to both nail and the subvert typical stoner archetype. Yes, both are possible, but it’s tough to pull off. Under Danny Leiner’s direction — he of Dude, Where’s My Car? fame — they create likable and hateable characters who almost always have something funny to say even if you won’t particularly like them at the time they say it.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a funny and clever stoner comedy, filled with many enjoyable situations and the subversion of many stereotypes to keep it funny. It has a couple of good actors in the leading role, and enough jokes to fill its 90-minute running time, punctuated with some odd but hilarious cameos along the way. It has some sweet side plots, a decent main storyline, and is quite enjoyable, stoned or sober (I’m guessing).