By dialing back the weed humor and bringing the action home for the holidays, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas earns fresh laughs despite its string-of-high jinks story. Stoners need not worry; pot still plays a central role in the plot, as does cocaine and a waffle-making robot, but the follow up to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay finds new targets to lampoon - 3D movies, Christmas plays - and is more satisfying than the last outing.
After a rough trip to Guantanamo Bay in the last film, Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) are no longer closer friends. Harold lives in a nice house with his attractive wife, Maria (Paula Garcés), and works on Wall Street, while Kumar still lives in the apartment the pair used to share and recently got dumped by his girlfriend for being irresponsible. Kumar receives a package for Harold at the apartment, and decides to deliver it to Harold. Before Harold can get him out the door, Kumar manages to burn down the Christmas tree supplied by Maria's judgmental father (Danny Trejo) for their family Christmas. When Harold and Kumar go looking for another tree, they begin another night of debauchery.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson makes his feature-film debut with A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which, incidentally, is presented in regular old two dimensions on this Blu-ray. Strauss-Schulson crafts a lean, quickly paced film that never lingers long enough for viewers to question its flaws. Harold's friend Todd (Thomas Lennon) and his infant daughter join the action in time to become trapped inside a mobster's (Elias Koteas) apartment after a misunderstanding involving the man's sexually aggressive daughter. The film throws in several stylized, informational cut-aways - one surveys newspapers recounting the mobster's reign of terror - that earn big laughs, and an altered Harold and Kumar are depicted in Claymation during one sequence. The film's villain is either Koteas' mobster or Harold and Kumar's old stupidity, and their rocky friendship only increases their misfortune.
These movies have always been for a certain audience, or at least an audience in a certain mindset. The stoner humor is tweaked a bit in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas to appeal to a wider audience, and a recurring bit about Todd's daughter being exposed to various mind-altering substances is a winner. The film teases the use of 3D technology through various sight gags that likely enhance the overall film (a 3D Blu-ray is available), but it never rises above being a series a silly obstacles for Harold and Kumar to overcome.
Harold and Kumar run into old pal Neil Patrick Harris, who again steals the show, and realize they never should have given up on their friendship. Bonus points are also due for some smart, self-aware lines about Harris' sexuality and Kumar working at the White House. Is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas funny? Yes. Is it basically a retread of the previous films? Also yes, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The stakes are low and the plot episodic, but A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas offers up enough laughs that viewers may not lament Harold and Kumar growing up.
The Blu-ray includes two cuts of the film, the theatrical version (1:29:39) and the extended, "Extra Dope Edition" (1:36:15), and New Line/Warner Brothers provides solid 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfers for each on a dual-layer disc. Detail and delineation are generally good, with the image sporting lots of texture and depth, and colors are bold and well saturated. Black levels are generally strong, and the transfer only exhibits minor crush. A few compression issues do pop up, including some slight aliasing and digital noise, and this is likely a result of squeezing two transfers onto one disc. Overall, though, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas appears bright and cheery on Blu-ray.
Viewers are left with an interesting choice for sound. The Blu-ray features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack...but only on the theatrical cut. The extended cut, which is a big selling point for this disc, only gets a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The standard mix on the extended cut is fine, but it lacks the range and power of the theatrical cut's DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Dialogue is clear and well balanced in both mixes, but the HD mix is the easy winner when presenting action and directional effects. There is a fair amount of surround action during the film, and the LFE occasionally rumbles to life for some impressive kickback. The score and popular-music soundtrack are nicely rendered, and the HD mix again sounds stronger and exhibits greater clarity. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are included for the theatrical cut. English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are also available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
It seems New Line/Warner Brothers is on a mission to cut down on the number of physical discs within its "combo pack" releases. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas arrives on a flipper disc (cue the complaints!); one side is the Blu-ray, the other is a DVD copy of the film. Also included is a code to download an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie on Flixster. The gear comes in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. A separate 3D version is available and includes everything offered here alongside a Blu-ray 3D copy of the film. Extras are disappointingly light: Through the Haze with Tom Lennon (approx. 10 minutes total/HD) is a series of six interview segments (a "play all" option would have been nice) in which Lennon rants about the film and his fellow actors. Also included are Bringing Harold & Kumar to Claymation Life (3:32/HD), a short piece on the animated sequence in the film, and three deleted scenes (3:48/HD), the best of which finds Harold and Kumar in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas may not become a Christmas classic, but it earns enough laughs to warrant a viewing. Dope-smoking heroes Harold and Kumar get into hot water while searching for a Christmas tree, and run into a local mobster, a cocaine-snorting toddler and Neil Patrick Harris. The story still jumps without reason between various obstacles for Harold and Kumar, but the film expands past pot humor and earns some solid laughs. The Blu-ray is a bit of a mixed bag. The picture quality is good, but the disc saddles the included extended cut with a standard Dolby Digital track and the extras are sparse. Viewers may also be interested in spending a few extra bucks on the 3D version. Still, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.