“Cannabis-themed holiday movies” is not an expansive genre, which is a shame because green is a core Christmas color. Hallmark would do well to create a film where a high-powered (literally) exec finally realizes it’s all bullshit, so she quits her job and moves back to the small town she grew up in to help run her father’s newly opened dispensary where she meets the hunky budtender of her dreams. You know you’d watch it. In lieu of that off the cuff imagined psyche-soothing offering, you may just have to settle for “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,” a movie I only saw once over a decade ago when it was first released, but haven’t given much thought to since. Was it really as forgettable as all that?
The third movie in trilogies often turns out to be the weakest, so my expectations going in were dialed way down. I was mostly looking for two things: Is it a good Christmas movie and do we get plenty of marijuana gags? The answer to both turned out to be a resounding yes. Yet the movie gave a little more than that. What makes the “Harold & Kumar” movies work is that they rely on the testing of friendship, and the more the friendship is tested, the funnier the movie becomes. This Christmas outing reveals that the stoner duo hasn’t seen one another in nearly two years, the friendship having effectively dissolved, as friendships from our carefree 20s often do.
Uptight Harold (John Cho) has a colorless Wall Street job and is married to Maria (Paula Garces). They live in a pristine suburban house and are trying to have a child – a goal which has forced Harold to give up the ganja, lest it interfere with his sperm count (a tale as old as time, and one that the movie actually debunks – more on that in a sec). At the start of the film, Maria’s entire family, which consists of as many as 20 Latinx folks, have arrived to spend the holiday with the Lees. With a passively aggressive Danny Trejo playing her father – a dude whose worship of Christmas is borderline terrifying – Roll D is understandably on edge and wants to please his father-in-law.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city virtually nothing has changed in Kumar’s life, evidenced by his hitting up a mall Santa (Patton Oswalt) for a bag of weed (“Meet me in my sleigh in half an hour!”). Keep in mind, this film predates any legal recreational cannabis by about a year. Santa’s goodies include strains with names like Winter Wonder Weed, Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer, It’s a Weederful Life, Hanukkah Hash, and Kwanzaa Cook Out, which catches Kumar’s attention: “Smells like Diwali Dank from October.” Back at his apartment (same one he shared with Harold), Kumar is in trouble with his long-suffering girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris), whom he has gotten pregnant despite being an everyday pot smoker. His uncertain response to this news is not what she wanted to hear. When a package for Harold arrives at Kumar’s front door, it’s only a matter of time until the stoner duo is reunited.
The awkward yet happy reunion is short-lived when the content of the package is revealed to be an enormous, immaculately rolled joint that in a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence (not the only one in this film that was designed for 3D – there’s a beer pong move for the ages) sets fire to Danny Trejo’s prized Christmas tree. Now Harold and Kumar have the perfect excuse for a nighttime trek across the New York City landscape in search of a replacement tree, and we have all the setup we need for this third (and currently final) “Harold & Kumar” movie.
One scenario after another finds the cannabis couple in all manner of preposterous situations – few that would benefit from detailing, but most of which are well worth seeing for yourself. Not only does the film predate legal weed, it also predates current woke expectations, resulting in plenty of ethnic and racial jokes which would probably not pass muster today. Personally, I remain unoffended by the bulk of it, but I thought I’d mention it for the more sensitive readers in our audience. (The most offensive bit to this middle-aged white guy is Wall Street protestors as a sight gag early on.) In addition to cannabis, the film gets plenty of mileage out of cocaine, LSD, crack and a very handy gadget called the Wafflebot.
One of the most inspired sections of the film brings back Neil Patrick Harris, who at this point in real life was comfortably out of the closet, so the script takes the opportunity to exploit his reality as a cover for his continued hetero lechery that was so prominent in the previous films. Bravo to NPH for playing along! If it sounds like you need to have seen the previous two installments to appreciate this one, that’s not at all the case and the film largely stands on its own. That said, a quick stop into a White Castle was a lovely nod to the original and much appreciated by this writer who would easily place that chain’s sliders in his stoner food top ten.
Move past all the over-the-top gags and set pieces (an acid-induced stop motion Rankin Bass-inspired sequence will amuse the hell out of any Gen Xer who grew up on such fare), and what you really have is a film about the value of friendship, which is probably what these movies have always mostly been about. The truth is, I laughed a LOT watching this movie – enough so that it’s tempting to work it into my regular holiday movie rotation in future Christmases. Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who later went on to dazzle us with “Cobra Kai”; keep an ear open for a “Karate Kid” shout-out here) created an important trilogy of stoner films – and this trilogy most definitely ends on a high note. One wonders if after Colorado went legal a year after this film’s release they kicked back, shared an impeccably rolled doobie, and looked at one another and said, “Our work here is done.”
All three “Harold & Kumar” movies are currently streaming on HBO Max.