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Airbags

3 of 5 stars
Directed by Danny Leiner.
Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris and Paula Garcés.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to see Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The pedigree of the movie (as the trailer put it: "that Asian guy from American Pie," "that Indian guy from Van Wilder," and "that white guy who did Dude, Where's My Car?") didn't have me racing to the multiplex by any stretch of the imagination, and the one recommendation I got was from my buddy Kurt, whose suggestions will forever be tainted by the fact that he also recommended that I see Red Rock West.

The "plot" revolves -- as you might have guessed -- around two guys named Harold and Kumar going to White Castle. A longer version of the plot synopsis is this: Harold (Better Luck Tomorrow's John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) smoke pot and go to White Castle, but very bizarre, occasionally hysterical complications arise. Enroute, they make a pact to not eat or give up until they have eaten their fill at the 24-hour White Castle an hour or so away -- and while I've never set foot in a White Castle myself, I recall being high (back in college, mom) and driving half an hour to a 24-hour Wendy's for a Spicy Chicken Filet sandwich, so I can understand the mindset.

While the trouble ensues, as it always does in movies like this, the film predictably turns into a dusk 'til dawn tale, but one of the pleasant surprises along the way is how utterly bizarre the film allows itself to be. For one instance, early in the movie, Harold and Kumar arrive at a Burger Shack that has long since supplanted the White Castle Kumar had thought he was driving to. Dismayed, they ask an employee (Barbershop's Anthony Anderson) directions to the nearest White Castle, which is of course the aforementioned 24-hour White Castle. As the Burger Shack employee waxes lustfully about those apparently glorious "sliders" and begins tossing himself about like a rag doll from the torture of having to work at and eat burgers from a mere Burger Shack, I have to admit that I actually said out loud, "What the fuck?" There are, of course, innumerable other lines about how delectable White Castle burgers are, but most of these are so hilariously over the top that they transcend mere in-film advertising to a similar extent as the product placement sequence in Wayne's World.

Even for another entry into the dumb-comedy "genre" as redefined for today's audiences by American Pie, Harold and Kumar has more than its fair share of bathroom humor and gross-out scenes, but it redeems itself by also occasionally being a much wittier, smarter film than most of its peers. Some viewers might find the very scenes I have in mind more offensive than any game of "Battleshits" (don't ask), though, because part of the reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did was that Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is one of the most unabashedly, intentionally racist Hollywood movies in a very long time. It's just that the butt of all the racist jokes are white people, and that makes it funny.

While I wouldn't go so far as to call the movie "very subversive" regarding race, as Kal Penn did in a recent "interview" with ComingSoon.net, I would say that the fact that almost without exception the white people in the film are walking clichés, assholes, white trash, desperately deluded losers or some combination of these is not only a small step for minorities, but one giant leap for … well, Hollywood. It's also just about the only realistic thing in the entire film. OK, just kidding. Kind of.

The lynchpins of the movie are Cho and Penn's chemistry and the characters of Harold and Kumar themselves. Maybe I'm biased because I identify with the fact that they're not white, they're stoners, and they're not idiots like Bill & Ted and whatever the hell Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott's characters were in Dude. In fact, both Harold and Kumar are portrayed as very intelligent; NORML would be proud. Harold works in investment banking, while Kumar is probably... maybe... going to be a doctor at some point, if he ever stops obsessing about weed long enough to get through a med school interview. More importantly, Cho and Penn are gifted enough actors that they know how to tell a dumb joke without broadcasting that they know why it's funny. It's been long enough since as likeable a comedic pair as Harold and Kumar has hit the silver screen that I honestly hope they make the sequel the ending of the film hints at (Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam). Seriously, if American Pie got two sequels, then Harold & Kumar should get at least one, too, even if it doesn't do half as well at the box office. Think of it as affirmative action.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is playing at AMC City North, the Biograph, the Village Art Theatre, AMC River East, Lawndale Cinemas and the Evanston Century 12/CinéArts 6. How Neil Patrick Harris (as himself) figures into the movie is too good for me to spoil here, but it's not quite as gratuitous as it sounds.

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Comments

Eamon / August 6, 2004 4:07 PM

I was going to call you out on this, but apparently Wendy's introduced their Spicy Chicken sandwich all the way back in May of 1996. I'm stunned.

 

About the Author(s)

Gordon McAlpin writes his movie reviews with a red light-up Spy Kids pen, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever, even though he didn’t like the movie that much.

If you feel the need to get in touch with him directly, instead of using the comments below, do so at .

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