The third film in a franchise whose first two outings domestically grossed a mere $56 million combined swaps one dimension for another. The new dimension is, of course, the third. It only takes a handful of minutes for audience members to be engulfed in pot smoke, followed by hurled eggs that “break” the lens, a shower of confetti sprayed from a (phallic) cane wielded by Neil Patrick Harris and, of course, Danny Trejo jerking off onto a Christmas tree. Like Werner Herzog and the makers of Piranha 3-D, the makers of Harold & Kumar 3-D are actually doing something with a technology that’s often applied only cynically.
The lost dimension is its socio-political savagery. The first two Harold and Kumars may have been stoner comedies, with the unevenness that comes with the terrain, but they gleefully lampooned white America’s uneasy tolerance of other cultures, particularly post-9/11. Film number three, not so much. They are now simply a brand, a pair of shit-magnets who happen upon wild misadventures while sometimes, and not always, intoxicated. There’s not even much weed, with Harold (John Cho) now a straight-edge Wall Street goon with a hot wife and a suburban manse. That’s made him estranged from Kumar (Kal Penn), but fate, naturally, brings them together, sending them on a mission to procure a handsome Christmas tree, a simple task that has them run afoul of Russian mobsters (led by an underutilized Elias Koteas), Rockettes, Santa, RZA and NPH.
Lazy but affable, Harold & Kumar 3-D is also loopier than both predecessors, which is reason enough to justify its existence. Inspired explanations for why NPH is both gay-engaged and alive (having been shotgunned in episode two) abound, and there’s even room for a Claymation interlude—an idea swiped from Community only darker and with more clay penises. That makes it more enjoyable than the strangely leaden Escape From Guantánamo Bay, albeit not Go to White Castle, which looks like a masterpiece of comic precision and satirical prowess compared to what it’s wrought. Weed, as ever, is mistakenly perceived as on-its-face funny, although it’s worth noting that the only weed joke that amuses sticks to the basics, namely Kumar sincerely reminding Harold that “weed is so good. It gets you high.”