Less a feature film than a drawn-out comedy sketch, “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” rather closely resembles the sort of segment one might have found on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1990s. The movie’s characters are painfully two-dimensional, the production values are virtually non-existent and realistic grounding is not a concern. Moreover, the humor, although intense and never-ending, is juvenile at best. And just like Lorne Michaels’ famous television show, the picture’s target audience seems not to be any group of sober adults seeking wholesome entertainment, but rather those rambunctious, drunk, young stoners who are seemingly incapable of being offended.
Harold (John Cho, “American Pie”) and Kumar (Kal Penn, “Van Wilder”) are apparently brilliant roommates who could think of no better use for their gifted minds than to take to their couch, turn on the television, and delve into a marijuana-laced world of sheer idiocy.
Harold, a Korean American, passes his days working as an accountant in New York City. His hard work and willingness to put in extra hours have made him an easy subject of abuse by his office superiors who conveniently assume that an Asian-American must derive some sort of pleasure from doing the mathematical work of others over the weekend.
Kumar, an Indian American, is the son and brother of successful doctors who fully expect him to go to medical school now that his undergraduate days are over. His MCAT scores are impressive and his father’s connections are stellar enough to land him extraordinary applicant interviews, but Kumar is content leading his drug-filled, womanizing life of unemployment and is therefore determined to soil every interview he has to attend.
“Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” takes care to document one particular Friday night in the life of the two protagonists. As their real-world stresses mount, their marijuana supply begins to work its magic, and their hunger heightens, the two young men find themselves craving the ultimate munchies fix: White Castle sliders. (For the uninitiated, sliders are the mini hamburgers that are the signature item of the fast-food chain; they are tiny enough to be eaten in bulk, and “slide” right down one’s throat.)
The film is more of a road-trip story than anything else, as it follows the duo’s travels from their home in Hoboken, N.J., through New Brunswick, Princeton and Cherry Hill in search of a White Castle restaurant. (The all-night search for a slider is somewhat of a false dilemma, however, as it should be noted that any true White Castle fan living in Hoboken would know of the restaurant’s locations in Jersey City, Newark and Union City, all locales far closer to the stoned duo’s apartment than the Philadelphia suburbs at which they take aim.)
Harold and Kumar’s voyage is, of course, adventure-thick, as the young men encounter a band of rednecks terrorizing minorities, an escaped cheetah, Neil Patrick Harris (of “Doogie Howser M.D.” fame, playing himself), numerous scantly clad and sexually eager women, several kilos of marijuana, a police precinct, and various other people and places that do little to advance any notion of a plot but instead happily stand in for quickie punch lines before making awkward and disjointed exits.
These varying escapades are poorly held together and have few common threads other than a universal interest in offending just about every minority group possible. Before the credits role, pot shots are taken at groups ranging from Mexicans to African Americans. At one point, a Jewish character describes actress Katie Holmes’ breasts by commenting, “You know the Holocaust? Picture the exact opposite of that.”
Other scenes are just of generally poor morality. The remarkable contrast between the Neil Patrick Harris of “Doogie Howser M.D.” stardom and the washed up, former child star of today is remarkable when the movie portrays him doing a line of cocaine off of a nude woman. The actor’s career has somehow wandered from the epitome of innocence to the most perverse forms of drug use.
And while that awesome shock value does make for a cheerful laugh, the film seems incapable of establishing any line of humor within the ordinary boundaries of taste. Nearly every gut-wrenching turn is somehow derived from an ethnic slur, juvenile sight gag, or the glorification of an illegal substance and its side effects.
Those few comedic moments that are appropriate for the whole family are also tragically familiar. One of the film’s finer scenes, in which the two protagonists belt out diva tunes while cruising down the highway, is transparently similar to a classic David Spade and Chris Farley set-up. And while the joke may have been funny the first time, theft is never quite as amusing.
Then again, it should be noted that I screened “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” entirely sober. Moreover, I must confess to having never been to a White Castle restaurant, and not being a user of marijuana. So while I fail to see the value in this film, it is a distinct possibility that I am merely on the outside of several inside jokes that could render this crime-fest an enjoyable time. But then again, this notion seems perhaps as unlikely as the idea of two stoners in search of fast food encountering an escaped cheetah.