There are all sorts of buddy-road comedies. There have been many versions of Revenge of the Nerds. Then there are classic stoner comedies like Dazed & Confused and those Cheech & Chong movies.
Well if you had to put Harold & Kumar in a category it would have to be a hybrid of all of these.
Investment banker Harold (John Cho) and his would-be med student roommate Kumar (Kal Penn) are struggling with their twentysomething lives. After smoking a joint or two, the duo become fascinated with a commercial advertising the burgers of White Castle.
Like Arthur sought out the Holy Grail, the slightly stoned duo take off to find their mythical castle and chow down on those scrumptious burgers.
Along the way they encounter an ecstasy-trippin' Neil Patrick Harris, a crazed car mechanic Freakshow (Chris Meloni), a deeply disturbed male nurse (Ryan Reynolds), and a cadre of extreme sports punks. I guess even these knights need their pitfalls to reach the end of their quest.
Harold & Kumar in some ways will be seen as a revolution for the stoner genre as it is riddled with jokes, star cameos, farces, and stereotypes. The casting of the film's leads does allow the comedy to showcase the talents of emerging stars Cho and Penn. But it seems to be the under-lying layers that I was a little shocked at.
The comedy relies so much on stereotypes to propel its jokes that it is hard to see past them. Are we supposed to laugh at the leads or with them? This has always been a problem with me and racially-charged humor. If we are supposed to laugh at them, I find it a little hard to take. With them is a different story.
I have always been a strong admirer of John Cho and his career. I really enjoyed his performances in the American Pie films, but really got to know the actor in the short-lived but excellent comedy series, Off Centre. He is a great comedic find but deserves better than this kind of film.
In a lot of ways I felt that the film, even though it was really funny in parts, was trying way too hard to be different. In some situations I also felt like it was a giant commercial. Then there are the constant cameos by actors from all the other gross-out comedies. It was an almost parade of talent that takes away from the performances of the leads.
I guess what I am saying is that I enjoyed a lot of moments of Harold & Kumar and I enjoyed the leads immensely, but felt the movie really lacked a real emotional berth.
The only scenes that I felt were really genuine were the scenes pertaining to Harold and his true love Maria (Paula Garces). I felt there was some real chemistry between the two and that it allowed the two to step away from their stereotyped surroundings and just be normal.
I really wanted to feel more for Harold and Kumar and believe for one moment that the film was more about the journey than the hamburgers. But it never reached that. It is a little stoner comedy that is funny in places but never really reaches full comedic fruition. (2.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.