In 10 Words or Less
Dude...Where's my White Castle?
A confession: I was not in the proper context for reviewing this movie. Instead of high, scarfing down sliders, I was sober, with a plate of stuffed shells and sausage and a diet Pepsi. Now you know. I apologize.
Director Danny Leiner's first studio film was Dude, Where's My Car, a mish-mash film about a couple of stoners: two idiot white guys. His follow-up is the equally goofy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a road-trip following a couple of stoners: two very-intelligent minorities. Sure, that's far from stretching his wings, but Harold & Kumar is heads above Dude, mainly due to those two stars, Harold (John Cho, American Pie) and Kumar (Kal Penn, Van Wilder). Some have credited the "Cheech and Chong" factor of having non-caucasians delivering the drug punchlines, but in reality, drugs are only a motivation, not the entirely plot.
Harold and Kumar's adventures are a bit more reality-based than Dude's intergalactic plot, which also helps make the film more accessible. After smoking the chronic, the boys get the munchies for food they haven't had in a while: the magical squares of meat known as White Castles. There aren't any nearby though, so a road trip is required. That's where the fun starts. As could be expected, anything that could go wrong, does. Especially for Harold, the straight-laced Asian investment banker, who has to have his boss' work done by the morning. The source of his troubles is often his roommate Kumar, an Indian medical genius with no interest in medicine (at least the legal kind.) He's the fun-loving, pube-trimming type, whose only interests are getting high and getting burgers.
The movie flies at just under an hour and a half, which is filled with disparate comic moments, from an East Asian Students Party to a roadside pitstop that results in picking up a hitchhiking Neal Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D."), playing himself as a drugged-out party monster. The movie never fails to grab onto a chance to go for the scatological joke, whether it's a couple of toilet-loving British college girls or a boil-covered mechanic named Freakshow (Wet Hot American Summer's Christopher Meloni.) But for all the gross-outs, the comedy is mostly innocuous. There's even a love subplot featuring Cho and his unattainable Latina neighbor Maria (Paula Garces).
Interestingly, there's an anti-racism theme that runs through the movie, which comes through loud and clear as Harold and Kumar are abused by the police and some local "extreme" athletes, led by a skate punk named Cole (Steve Braun), who seems to exist only to antagonize the guys. If their suffering didn't get the point across, a couple of "shove it down your throat" moments will be along shortly to make it obvious. But along with the "can't we all just get along" ideas, there's plenty of homophobic jokes that are just peachy keen in this film's world. That it's OK to make fun of gays but saying "thank you, come again" in an Indian accent is the sign of an idiot takes some of the wind out of the movie's sails. You can't have it both ways.
While Cho and Penn are very good in their parts, and thankfully mostly accent-free (preventing some very lame jokes), the supporting cast is a lot of fun, especially the cameos by Fred Willard, Jamie Kennedy and Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder.) There's not a lot to this movie, but what there is is enjoyable. As far as the extreme and unrated aspects, there seemed to be a slight bit more nudity and blood, but to say where would ruin it.
New Line came up with a winner with this DVD, a one-disc set packed in a standard keepcase, with an insert that lists the movie's chapter stops. The menus are some of the best seen in recent memory, an anamorphic widescreen mix of film clips and new footage, and static screens. On the main menu, Harold and Kumar, sitting in Harold's car, talk about DVDs and the menu options, on at least four different loops. If you don't make a selection, Kumar grows increasingly hostile. The special feature menu is similarly creative, with more new footage. More DVDs with this kind of creativity would be welcome. The disc has scene selections, sound (English 5.1 and 2.0) and subtitle (English, Spanish and French) options, and a selection of special features. Unfortunately, unlike the recent unrated release of White Chicks, the added footage is not indicated.
The widescreen, anamorphic tranfer looks very good, an impressive achievement for a movie that takes place mostly at night. The shadows and blacks are at proper levels, while the color is excellent, especially during the fantasy animation scene, which is quite vivid. There was no obvious compression or grain evident on my display, while the overall image was quite crisp. The 5.1 audio isn't that impressive, but there are a few moments where the surrounds come into play to create a deeper sound field and plenty of action in music-heavy scenes. Music is a big part of this movie, and it comes across without distortion when overlapping with the dialogue.
There are three feature-length commentaries included on this DVD, an impressive count, but one that courts overlap. There's only so much that can be said about an 88-minute stoner comedy. Fortunately, with the way the contributors are split up, each track has its own focus. The main commentary features the director and his two top stars, who play off each other quite well. The trio has plenty to say, even throwing in some minutia, like the Asian superstition regarding the fourth floor of a building. The film's writers get their own chance to talk about the flick as well, talking about the inspirations behind the script, what lines were ad-libbed and the path they took to get the film on the screen. Like the first track, this commentary is very conversational and easy-going, as could be expected from a pair of writing partners. The third commentary will have to wait for now.
"The Back Seat Interview" is a "Taxicab Confessions"-style chat between stand-up Bobby Lee (who has a small part in the film) and the stars of the movie. This is far from your standard interview, as they drive around and talk about making the movie, covering topics like pubic grooming, homoeroticism and the smell of women's flatulence. It's a fun interview that doesn't take itself at all seriously, and is much better than most of the interviews found on DVDs. On-set interviews with other members of the cast can be found in "Drive-Thru Bites," which features short talks with Harris, Fred Willard, the Diarreah twins, the Jewish stoners, Garces and Braun, as well as the writers and director. Like the main interview, these clips are fun and breezy, and the participants don't act like they are on "20/20."
A couple of featurettes go into the filmmaking process, covering sound and animation. "A Trip to the Land of Burgers" takes a look at the film's animated fantasy sequence with Harold and Maria. The director, editor Jeff Bettancourt and artist Chevon Hicks discuss how the idea was conceived and produced, with Hicks breaking down all the important features of the animation. The segment went through plenty of changes from concept to screen, and this featurette is a great look at what happened. "The Art of the Fart" is a fictitious documentation of the creation of the sound design during the "battle $#!+s" scene, including plenty of bathroom comedy. It's pretty ridiculous, but at the same time does illustrate, to some degree, the function of the sound designer. It's more entertaining than enlightening, but interesting nonetheless.
In addition to a selection of deleted/alternate scenes, the disc also includes a handful of trailers for other New Line titles, and two for Harold & Kumar, the theatrical green- and red-band trailers. These are interesting to contrast and compare for the differences in the sex and violence that's shown to general audiences and R-rated audiences. The deleted scenes, presented in anamorphic widescreen, can be watched one at a time or with a "play all" option, as well as with or without commentary by Leiner, Penn and Cho. A few completely excised scenes, with a major focus on the Freakshow character, are included, along with some lengthened scenes. One featuring Luis Guzman's character, who was cut from the film, is definitely worth checking out.
Pop this disc into your DVD-Rom drive, and you'll get a couple of interesting features, like the Script-to-Screen comparison, which allows you to follow the script as the film plays, along with storyboards on five scenes, as well as print the screenplay. For any amateur filmmaker, this is invaluable. Less important is "Me & Weedy," which helps you put your face alongside a giant bag of pot, in various vacation spots. You know...in case you ever wanted a picture of you and an anthropomorphic bag of weed. There are also a couple of weblinks and a Harold and Kumar-themed flash game.
This Extreme Unrated edition has a couple of extras that aren't found on the standard DVD, but those who pick up the R-rated cut aren't missing out on much in terms of bonus features. A reel of "extreme" outtakes, mainly sexual comments, is pretty funny, but way too short, and not exactly extreme thanks to censor bars on the nudity. Unlike the deleted scenes they are found with, there's no commentary here. Even less extreme is the video for "Yeah" by All Too Much, which is made up of a mismatch of filmed scenes and clips from the movie. Why it was saved for the "Extreme Unrated" disc is unclear, as there's nothing even slightly offensive. A bonus "Extreme" commentary track by Danny Bouchart, who plays Extreme Sports Punk #1, is also exclusive to this disc. A first-time actor, he's not exactly screen-specific, mostly telling his story of how he got involved with the movie, until he's on-camera. His high-energy delivery is abrasive to anyone not of a similar personality to his character, but as a native of Toronto, he does have some info about the shooting locations. It's hard to tell if the whole thing is an act, but it's definitely hard to put up with, even if it's only for 88 minutes. It's mostly inane chatter that you'll likely want to skip.
The Bottom Line
It's no comic masterpiece, but Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle doesn't suck either. There are some genuinely funny moments, and some very entertaining cameos, which, combined with a pair of truly likable stars (unlike Dude, Where's My Car?), make for an entertaining movie experience. A well-packed DVD that hits more than it misses makes this a solid pick-up whether you enjoy buddy flicks, stoner comedies or just funny movies.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.