Stoners and junk food go together like mom and apple pie so it sort of makes sense that you'd make a stoner comedy about two potheads and their quest for burgers. When Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle struck box office gold in 2004, it made further sense that we'd be treated to more of their adventures - and we were. Warner Brothers have treated this New Line property well on home video, giving all three movies special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases and now they go back to the well with this boxed set, just in time for Christmas! But does it offer the Harold & Kumar fan anything new? Outside of the packaging (and more on that in the Extras section), nope! But for those without the three individual releases on their shelves already...
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle:
So yeah, this first film introduces us to Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) - two roommates who love weed and who live together in New Jersey just across the river from Manhattan. Harold works at an investment banking group where he's taken advantage of by two white employees who convince him to take their work home with him to complete over the course of his Friday night, while Kumar intentionally blows an interview with an admissions officer (Fred Willard) as he has no intention of ever going to medical school like his father wants him to. They head home, get some weed into them... and then get the munchies. When they see a commercial on TV for White Castle, they know exactly what they need and so they hop into Harold's car and head over to the White Castle that Kumar knows is just across the street from the theater. But when they get there, it's gone.
A quick talk with the drive-thru attendant at the replacement restaurant lets them know that there is a White Castle about forty-five minutes away in Cherry Hill. They decide that this is more than just a craving for burgers and more like a holy quest and so they make a pact to get some White Castle no matter what. After they get lost in Newark and witness a beating, they wind up in Princeton where they almost get laid by a pair of flatulent hotties who engage in a game of 'Battleshits' and narrowly escape being caught by campus security. When Harold's car gets a flat a kindly but rather insane towtruck driver driver named Freakshow (because of the boils that ooze puss all over his body) takes them back to his place while he repairs their vehicle, encouraging them to head on into his home and f*ck his wife. This turns out horrible of course, and things just go downhill for them from there as they're trailed by 'Extreme Sports Punks' and eventually they're wrongly arrested by racist cops only to escape from jail for an encounter with Neil Patrick Harris who is 'tripping balls' from some X he just took and looking to get it on with some strippers... all while Harold pines away for the affections of their neighbor, Maria (Paula Garces), who he is madly in love with but too shy to talk to.
A breezy ninety minutes of crass entertainment, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is pretty funny stuff if you're in the right frame of mind for it. This is a movie where an Indian American pees on a bush only to be accosted by a creepy white guy who also wants to pee on the same bush... and compliment his pubic hair. The type of movie where two guys get high with a cheetah recently escape from a nearby zoo, only to later try and ride that same cheetah to freedom. The type of movie where parts of Canada double poorly for New Jersey (seriously, at least try and hide the Shopper's Drug Mart and Mr. Sub signs if you're going to use Toronto as a stand in) and the type of movie where Bobby Lee gets to trade pot brownies for booby touches. There's no regard for decency here, no regard for social mores or for playing things safe - instead the movie just goes for it, caring not for who it offends or why, content to be as crass as it wants to be and it's all the better for it. This is a stoner comedy, not high (f)art.
The cast are all game here, with Cho's more reserved Harold making the right sort of straight man for Penn's Kumar. The pair do a great job of poking fun at various racial stereotypes and seem pretty natural in their respective roles. The supporting cast are pretty strong here as well, with Willard doing a good job as the straight laced Dean in the opening scene and Harris stealing the show - particularly once he steals Harold's car and loads it with strippers and dope. The movie goes at a good pace from start to finish, packing enough visual gags and funny dialogue into its running time that it never gets dull or tired and there's enough bizarre and quirky bits and pieces scattered throughout the movie that it's got some good replay value as well.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantamao Bay:
In this mediocre sequel to the genuinely funny Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) are planning to go to Amsterdam so that Harold can surprise their neighbor, a girl named Maria (Paula Graces) who he has a serious crush on and who he smooched with at the end of the first film. The pair cruises through airport security with Kumar narrowly escaping a search and successfully smuggling some weed on board. When he pulls out a smokeless bong and lights up, a paranoid old woman sees him and thinks he's a terrorist. The pair are brought down by a trio of overzealous air marshals and thrown into the Guantanamo Bay prison.
No sooner do they arrive, however, then they make their escape and manage to hitch a ride across the ocean with some Cuban refugees to Miami where they meet up with their friend, Raza Syed (Amir Talai) who is in the middle of hosting a 'bottomless' party (which is exactly what it sounds like). After the party, Raza lends the pair a car and some clothes so that they can drive to Texas where they hope that Colton Graham (Eric Winter), the politically minded fiancÚ of Kumar's ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Harris), will be able to help them. Unfortunately for them, the insane Agent Ron Fox of the Department Of Homeland Security is doing his best to bring these two 'terrorists' to justice before they can strike again, completely oblivious to the fact that Harold and Kumar are really nothing more than a pair of slacker/stoner/frat boys. Before it's all over they'll get some help from President George W. Bush (James Adomian), Neil Patrick Harris (as himself), a strange redneck and his sibling bride, and a gang of good natured whores (lead by Beverly D'Angelo) and they'll travel half way across the country.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay definitely has its share of laugh out loud moments but they don't come as quickly or as regularly as they did in the duo's first big screen adventure and there are a few spots in the film that drag resulting in some obvious pacing problems. That said, if you dug Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle then you'll appreciate the crass and juvenile sense of humor on display in this sequel even if it is about as low brow as you can get. You know what kind of movie you're getting into when the first scene finds Kumar interrupting Harold in the shower by taking 'the best dump ever' and detailing his bowel movements for Harold (and for us) in a fair bit of detail before commenting on Harold's wang. Yup. It's that kind of film and it's not going to appeal to everyone, particularly the prurient. But you probably knew that already.
The guest appearance from Neil Patrick Harris, once again in a very self aware role playing Neil Patrick Harris, is one of the film's highlights. It lets Harris show us that although he's happy to acknowledge and maybe even exploit his past as TV's Doogie Howser, M.D. he has grown up... or at least reached adulthood. Harris plays his part with a completely straight face and he does so quite well and anyone who knows him only from that decades old television role will likely get a kick out of his part here. It's fun to see Beverly D'Angelo show up in a bit part as well, though she's rather underused here in an appearance that is only a scant few minutes long. Of course, John Cho and Kal Penn are their usual likeable selves, turning in enjoyable performances as the two leads as the somewhat repressed would be accountant and his slacker/stoner med-school pal.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay takes some ballsy political risks by tackling what many Americans consider sensitive issues in considering today's current political climate. The potential to offend is huge with this picture and the writer/director team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg exploit that potential quite effectively by taking jabs at the (at the time, current) administration and at the president himself. That said, cajones don't always mean laughs or good storytelling and the pacing issues and haphazard nature of the script take their toll on the picture. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is certainly worth a look for fans of the kind of crass humor the first film established, but it's far from a modern classic, rather, it's a mildly amusing blip and little more.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas:
The third film in the series, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas In 3-D arrives on a DVD/Blu-ray flipper disc from Warner Brothers, puzzlingly enough, without any 3-D enhancement of any kind (a Blu-ray 3-D version is available separately). Can the movie hold up without the 'stuff flying at the screen gimmick?' Yeah, more or less.
When the film begins, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) haven't talked to one another for two years. Kumar, living in a dumpy apartment which his horny Jewish friend Adrian(Amir Blumenfeld) rents out to homeless people to use as a bathroom, finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant while Kumar has been living a life with his wife, Maria (Paula Garces), out in the suburbs. It's Christmas time and Kumar's father in law (Danny Trejo) has shown up with the entire family in tow and the only thing he wants is a perfect Christmas tree. When they all head into Manhattan to attend mass, Harold opts to decorate the tree himself for them, so it'll be perfect when they get home. At this point, Kumar and Adrian show up with a package left at the old place for Harold. They open it up, it's a giant spliff and when one thing leads to another, the Christmas tree burns down.
With Harold's family Christmas in complete jeopardy, the race is on to find another perfect Christmas tree and to get it back to Harold's place and set up before his scary father in law makes it home, sees it isn't there, and disowns him. With Harold's 'new friend' Todd (Tom Lennon) and his infant daughter in tow, they wind up heading into Manhattan. Before the night is over they'll fantasize about lesbian nuns, run in to some nasty Russian gangsters with horny daughters, hang out with Neil Patrick Harris backstage at his Christmas extravaganza, experience the wonders of claymation, hang out with a waffle making robot and stop at White Castle for a snack.
Somewhat predictable in that we know Harold and Kumar are going to eventually set aside their differences and become best friends again, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is a big step up from the somewhat disappointing Guantanamo Bay film, the second so far in the series. It's also quite a bit raunchier, featuring full frontal male claymation and non-claymation nudity, a graphic scene with lesbian nuns making out in a shower room and a segment where Neil Patrick Harris heads up to heaven and gets a handjob from two naked angels in Jesus' nightclub. If that weren't enough, the movie features a baby with a taste for weed and cocaine, a 'Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin To Fuck With' sing along.
The film plays with racial stereotypes a lot, not just with Mexicans but with Jewish, Indian and Asian stereotypes as well, but never to the point where it feels mean spirited. Cho and Penn are as reliably funny here as they've been in the past and the film definitely moves at a good pace. The 3-D work is a constant, but viewed here in 2-D format, it's obviously lacking the impact and comes across as an intentionally obvious gimmick (it's all part of the joke). As far as stoner comedies go, this is a good one but when it's all said and done, if you like the earlier Harold And Kumar movies you're going to appreciate this one and if you don't, this will do nothing to change your mind.
NOTE: This release contains the theatrical cut as well as the longer (and raunchier) uncut version of the film.
The first movie looks the softest of the three but the AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer is obviously a few steps above what DVD could offer. Detail is fine, colors look good, there are no problems with print damage to report and the film's grain structure looks nice and natural. If you look for it you might pick up on some minor edge enhancement but the key word there is minor, it's not particularly distracting. The second film looks fine in AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85.1 widescreen. Again, this isn't a movie made with a super massive budget but there was enough money behind it to ensure that, for the most part, it is well shot and as such, transfers to Blu-ray rather wel. The image is sharp and detailed and free of any dirt or debris and it shows good colors and pretty decent black levels as well.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas hits Blu-ray in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer from Warner Brothers in its original aspect ratio of 2.40.1. All in all, the movie looks great here. Detail is strong throughout (which is a blessing when the naked nuns are on screen, maybe not so much when Danny Trejo gets his close ups!) and color reproduction is excellent. A bit of minor edge enhancement is there if you want to waste your time looking for it but there are no obvious defects here. Of course, the 3-D footage looks goofy in 2-D and some of the CGI used to make all of that happen is obviously fake, but you can't fault the Blu-ray for that. Skin tones look good, black levels are strong and all in all, the movie looks very good in high definition.
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is rolled out with an English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, with subtitles available in English, English SDH and Spanish. There isn't constant surround use here as long stretches of the movie are heavy with dialogue rather than action but when things do pick up in that regard the mix rises to the challenge admirably well and offers some good surround use and strong bass. Dialogue remains clean, clear and free of hiss or distortion and all in all, this mix leaves little room for complaint.
Guantanamo also hits Blu-ray with a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, in English, with no alternate language options provided but removable subtitles offered up in English, English SDH and Spanish. This is a more aggressive mix than most comedies tend to provide and you get some good rear channel action in a few key spots that's kind of fun. Levels are well balanced, dialogue is strong and clear and the score sounds good throughout.
Audio for the third film? Well, the theatrical version of the film gets a pretty killer DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, the extended cut, however, gets shafted with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. The lossy mix isn't bad, but when you compare certain scenes to the lossless track there's really no mistaking one for the other, the Master Audio mix comes out ahead in every possible way. Regardless, both tracks are busy and active and aggressive when they need to be, but offer clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. There's nothing to complain about here aside from the omission of a lossless track for the unrated cut, the movie sounds very good.
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle:
Extras for the first movie start off with a commentary track from director Danny Leiner and leading men Kal Penn and John Cho that's amusing enough that, if you're a fan of the series, you might want to check it out. There's more emphasis here on cracking jokes and having fun and you get the impression a lot of this is improvised but it's interesting when they do stay on topic and discuss the making of the movie and thankfully funny enough that when they don't, it still holds your attention. A second commentary gathers up writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg who are joined by Harold Lee for a slightly more on topic discussion about the writing of the story, where certain ideas came from, ideas that didn't make it and influences that helped the movie take shape. Both of these tracks are pretty good and should please fans who haven't had a chance to listen to them yet. If that weren't enough, there's a third track here from Extreme Sports Punk #1 Danny Bochart. It's amusing enough, in that Bochart hung out on set for pretty much the entire movie and watched a lot of the insanity unfold. As such, he's got some amusing anecdotes to share about who did what and why, even if a lot of what he does is simply offer some insight and critiques of the movie itself or occasionally just explain what's happening up there on the screen.
Moving on to the featurettes we start with John Cho and Kal Penn: The Backseat Interview, which is, as it sounds, an interview with the two stars who talk in the back seat of a car for thirteen minutes about their experiences making the movie for thirteen minuets. The Art Of The Fart is a ten minute examination of the humor behind everyone's favorite bodily function with special input from sound designer Jeff Kushner, who lets us in on how to get the sound just right for this type of thing. A Trip to the Land of Burgers is an eleven minute examination of how the psychedelic sequence from the movie was put together while the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame is a three minute piece where various cast and crew members talk about the restaurant that inspired the movie.
Eight different Cast and Crew Clips provide very short interviews with Danny Leiner, Jon Hurvitz, Hayden Schlossberg, actors Fred Willard, Neil Patrick Harris, Brooke D'Orsay, Kate Kelton, Steve Braun, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Krumholtz, and Paula Garces. There's just over twenty minutes of material here and each participant really just gives a quick rundown of what their involvement in the film entailed. Amusing enough to watch once but hardly in-depth, though they probably didn't really need to be much more than they are.
Rounding out the extras are eight deleted scenes with optional commentary, a fifteen minute Sneak Peak At Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantamao Bay and a trailer for that sequel, two minutes of outtakes, a music video, two trailers for the feature itself, animated menus and chapter stops.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantamao Bay:
The extras for the second film set start off with a commentary courtesy of co-writers/co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg joined here by lead actors Kal Penn and John Cho. This group discussion is a lot of fun as they cover the history of the production, the need for a follow up to the first film, and what it was like working on set. A lot of the same sort of humor that pops up in the film carries over to this commentary as well and at times it goes a little off topic but in general there's a lot of good, scene-specific information in here as well as a lot of goofball humor.
Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are on the second commentary as well, only this time around they're joined by actor James Adomian (the man who played George W. Bush) and the real Harold Lee. There's a fair bit of crossover here between this track and the first track, which makes sense considering that Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are on both commentaries. As such, they tend to get sidetracked easily, and maybe that's for the best. Alongside discussions about shooting on location and about casting the film, Adomian spends a fair bit of time impersonating the president and Lee more or less just chimes in randomly whenever he sees fit. This track just isn't as funny or as interesting as the first one was.
Also here is an interactive Dude, Change The Movie! option. If you watch the film with this option enabled, it plays out very much like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' story and allows you to make choices for Harold and Kumar. Depending on what choice you make, you can wind up impacting the film in some pretty interesting ways - a prime example being if you choose not to allow Kumar to light the bong on the plane, an almost entirely different movie will play out! There's a ridiculous amount of alternate footage in here if you dig around for it and this is kind of a fun way to get some replay value out of the film.
Moving right along, we find a twenty-two minute long featurette entitled Inside The World Of Harold And Kumar that features interviews with most of the key cast and crew from the film, including Neil Patrick Harris, and mixes it up with some pertinent clips and a fair bit of behind the scenes footage. Those involved talk about their specifics tasks on the film and on the set and while there's a decent amount of people interviewed here, it really does little more than to scratch the surface and it plays out as somewhat promotional in nature at times. Regardless, it does have its moments, if you're a Harold and Kumar fanatic you'll likely get something out of it.
Up next is a lengthy selection of eighteen deleted scenes and a bunch of extended bits from scenes that were used in the film. Most of these are too brief to be of much interest and they were likely cut for pacing reasons. There's an amusing bit with Secretary Fox but most of these are just extended takes and random bits of dialogue.
Rounding out the extras is a two minute fake service announcement from James Adomian as President Bush that is little more than a trailer for the film, trailers and teasers for the feature, and some animated motion menus.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas:
Extras aren't anything to write home about, really. First up are six quick promo pieces with Tom Lennon who speaks about various aspects of the production. None of these run over two minutes in length and they're played (admittedly quite effectively) entirely for laughs. Also here is a five minute bit that compares the storyboards drawn up for the claymation footage to the claymation footage itself - there's not much context to it but it's interesting on a visual level. Aside from that, two deleted scenes totaling four minutes are here (and worth watching, they're funny), as are menus and chapter stops - but that's it, this all amounts to about seventeen minutes worth of stuff. You do, however, get the R-rated and unrated versions of the movie, and as mentioned earlier, this is a flipper disc, so a standard definition barebones DVD version is on the opposite side of the disc.
Fans may also be interested to know that the packaging for this is kind of cool. The three Blu-ray discs fit inside a case that in turn fits inside a metal box shaped like a Zippo style lighter. Also housed inside the box are some air fresheners that tie into the movies and a set of White Castle coasters.
The Harold & Kumar Ultimate Collector's Edition 3-disc Blu-ray set isn't worth the double dip for those who already have these movies on Blu-ray as it's nothing more than a fancy repackaging of content made previously available. With that said, for those who appreciate raunchy stoner comedy who don't already have the movies on this format, the set comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.