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Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Content Caution

Credits

In Theaters
  • John Cho as Harold; Kal Penn as Kumar; Fred Willard as Dr. Woodruff; David Krumholtz as Goldstein; Eddie Kaye Thomas as Rosenberg; Paula Garces as Maria; Siu Ta as Cindy Kim; Christopher Meloni as Freakshow; Malin Akerman as Lianne; Neil Patrick Harris as Himself
Home Release Date
Director
  • Danny Leiner
Distributor
  • New Line Cinema
Reviewer

Movie Review

Smoking pot makes you hungry. That fact drives Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, this summer’s entry in the perennially popular buddy-picture/road trip genre.

Harold, a Korean American, is a conscientious worker low on the totem pole at an investment banking firm in New Jersey. His best friend, Kumar, is a brilliant but unmotivated son of an Indian surgeon.

Their misadventures begin on a Friday. The workweek’s over, and the pair blows off steam by watching TV and smoking a lot of marijuana. (Kumar stores his pot in a hole in his MCAT pre-test manual.) As the “munchies” set in, a tantalizing commercial for White Castle hamburgers (or “sliders,” as they’re called) appears, propelling the stoned duo off the couch and onto New Jersey’s highways and byways in search of satisfaction.

Harold and Kumar’s journey intersects with a motley crew. Their path leads first to their friends Goldstein and Rosenberg, who are watching a movie … and getting stoned. Their quest then leads them by car, truck, foot, hang-glider and cheetah (yes, you read that right) through Newark, Princeton, New Brunswick and finally Cherry Hill. Along the way they’re stalked by a gang of skater goons in an orange pickup, imprisoned by a redneck cop and “rescued” by a macabre tow-truck operator named Freakshow.

Neil Patrick Harris (of Doogie Houser fame) makes a cameo appearance as a stoned version of himself.

Positive Elements

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a rare film in that it features two Asian Americans in leading roles. In movies, Asian characters are usually relegated to familiar stereotypes, such as the industrious shopkeepers or geeky computer nuts. They’re rarely treated three-dimensionally, and they are usually on the fringe of the story.

Harold & Kumar challenges these conventions, and devotes center stage to their story. These two young men do not wield accents as ID, nor do they match many of our culture’s ideas about Asians. Scenes of satirical, over-the-top discrimination and harassment also help drive home the point that it’s folly to judge others by their skin or race. In the end, Harold and Kumar learn to defy the racist attitudes of those who’ve belittled them.

Spiritual Elements

One of the strangest characters in the film is Freakshow, who claims to be a Christian. (His face and neck are covered with oozing abscesses, and he looks like a character from a horror film.) His back window sports an “I Love Jesus” sticker, and when he picks up Harold and Kumar (and their car) after they’ve crashed into the woods, he says, “I saw you alone, stranded out there in the dark, and I asked myself: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Have you boys accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” They hurriedly answer yes.

Freakshow later tells the young men that they’re free to sleep with his wife while he fixes the car. So it would seem that Freakshow’s “confession” of faith is intended not as a admirable aspect of his character, but as something that simply makes him that much more, well, freakish.

Sexual Content

Early on, Harold finds Kumar in his bedroom standing naked in front the full-length mirror, trimming his body hair. (Kumar’s naked backside is visible twice). When he finally puts clothes on, Kumar’s T-shirt refers to his penchant for a particular part of the female anatomy—and mocks the president.

When the not-so-dynamic duo visits fellow potheads Goldstein and Rosenberg, their friends are eagerly awaiting a nude scene done by one of their favorite actresses. This leads to a graphic discussion of women’s bodies. Many other scenes include vulgar and objectifying references to body parts or sex.

Kumar is trying to buy drugs from a hippie student at Princeton University when two preppy coeds invite him to have sex with them. Kumar tells Harold excitedly, “We’re gettin’ laid, bro!” While Freakshow is fixing Harold’s car, his wife asks if they want to have sex with her. They’re eager to accept her offer until she tells them that it has to be at the same time. She then unbuttons her shirt and reveals her breasts (to the boys and moviegoers), and Freakshow walks in and suggests they make it foursome. Harold and Kumar run away.

Kumar dreams about making love to a giant bag of marijuana. Harold also has a dream sequence in which he makes out passionately with Maria, a girl in his apartment complex. Homosexuals make sexual overtures toward Kumar several times. Topless women are seen sprouting from a car’s sunroof. As they hang-glide, the pair spots a phallic “crop circle” in a field below.

The only thing Neil Patrick Harris wants to do is find someone to have sex with. He suggests they go to a strip club, and later steals Harold’s car and apparently does just that.

Violent Content

In an anti-marijuana commercial that ends with the message, “Marijuana Kills,” a young man smokes pot, then puts the barrel of shotgun in his mouth. He doesn’t pull the trigger on camera, but it’s implied that he committed suicide. (Harold and Kumar mock the commercial.) Several times, a group of racist punks physically intimidates Harold and Kumar. In Newark our witless heroes witness gang members savagely beating two Asians with baseball bats—they do nothing to stop the violence.

A raccoon attacks Harold, biting his neck and drawing a lot of blood. Kumar hastily operates on a man who’s been shot three times and is covered in blood. He pulls three bullets out of the man’s chest and plunges a hypodermic needle into his neck. Punks virtually destroy a convenience store and intimidate the Indian man who operates it.

Harold takes a swing at Kumar, who ducks, and hits a policeman in the face instead. The police believe that a black man who’s already in jail is responsible for another crime, and they violently shove him against a wall to “restrain” him—even though he’s doing nothing to resist. Harold and Kumar fall perhaps 100 feet when their hang-glider crashes into a very tall pine tree.

Crude or Profane Language

Strong profanity permeates this film. The writers’ two favorite words are of the f- and s- variety (combined, they’re used more than 100 times). Obscene references are made to sexual anatomy. Less offensive profanities and vulgarities get plenty of exposure as well. Both God’s and Jesus’ names are frequently taken in vain.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The entire movie is structured around marijuana and the munchies. The first scene in which Harold and Kumar smoke pot shows them rolling their own joints, as well as smoking two different bongs. Later, Kumar buys a huge bag of weed, and smokes it with Harold in the stairwell of the dorm. (The bag eventually ends up at the same police station as Harold and Kumar, so, when they escape, they steal it.) Kumar has a dream in which he envisions marrying a human-sized bag of marijuana.

Other Negative Elements

When Kumar runs into his father at the hospital, he pretends to be repentant, hugs his dad and steals his key card in the hope of finding medical marijuana. Harold and Kumar steal the orange truck of the punks who’ve been taunting them. The pair has several opportunities to step in to protect others who are being attacked, yet choose not to do so.

One particularly crude scene takes place in a women’s restroom in a Princeton University dorm. Harold and Kumar are hiding from the police when the two girls they hope to have sex with walk in with severe diarrhea. To “celebrate,” they play a loud, coarse game of “battles—.”

Harold and Kumar each gorge themselves on 30 White Castle sliders.

Conclusion

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle seeks to raise our awareness about how stereotypes and racism negatively affect minorities. It does so by helping us see through the eyes of two memorable characters, Harold and Kumar, how damaging and demeaning others’ prejudice can be.

Why then, do its creators make Harold and Kumar smoke dope, chase sex and swear so much that George Carlin himself couldn’t keep up?

The important message about prejudice is thus obliterated by a nonstop barrage of profanity, drug use and sexual content. Worse, the film never questions the wisdom of these characters’ unrestrained indulgences. Harold and Kumar’s appetites for marijuana, sex and food seemingly know no bounds. And consequences for their actions are wholly absent, suggesting fulfillment can be found in unbridled obedience to our bodies’ primal urges for pleasure.

Smoking pot makes you hungry. That fact drives this summer's entry in the perennially popular buddy-picture/road trip genre. Move over Cheech and Chong. Marijuana has two new poster boys.

Reverse Shot A different angle on moving images—past, present, and future

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Slide Rule
by Nick Pinkerton

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Dir. Danny Leiner, U.S., New Line

“The American Problem,” so-called, has undeniably been the Cannes-defining cog around which the hot-button cinema of the past two-plus years has rotated. And as every imaginable genre and director lines up to encapsulate the state of the nation for every imaginable demographic, I suppose it was only a matter of time until the minds behind Dude, Where’s My Car? fumbled their fingers onto the pulse of our troubled superpower. And so witness Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Striving for heights of feature-film commercial whoring not seen since the 100-minute Super Mario Brothers 3 advert that was 1989’s The Wizard, Harold & Kumar expands product placement into the film’s central crucible; the quotidian mission of the title/synopsis becomes a metaphorical quest for the fulfillment of the American dream. “This is about achieving what our parents set out for,” Indian-American Kumar (Kal Penn) tells his friend, Korean-American investment banker Harold (John Cho). To the movie’s credit, it forms a logical basis for such a claim; in the context of Harold & Kumar, America is indivisible from shitfaced late-night runs for lousy 24-hour fast food. And this, it beams, is by no means a bad thing.

Our protagonists, polar-opposite roommates who relate over the weighty expectations of their immigrant parents and a shared love of wacky tobaccy, are introduced in shorthand personality-illustrating skits. It’s Friday at quitting time and passive, shy Harold is buried in a heap of sloughed-off work by his slacking cracker co-workers (“Those Asian guys love crunching numbers”). Drifting-but-gifted Kumar shows up in a med-school entrance interview with the Dean (the omnipresent Fred Willard), which he intentionally and flamboyant flubs. Sensitive, over-reliable Harold fawns from afar after Maria, the gorgeous girl down the hall (Paula Garcés), and harbors a fondness for John Hughes movies; he gushingly calls Sixteen Candles “a beautiful love story,” though it’s unclear if he’s talking about the Long Duk Dong subplot. Smarmy Kumar expends the whole of his energy in avoiding the onset of adult responsibility, occasionally tossing Harold time-tested nuggets of free-wheeling best-bud wisdom like “Your whole life is pre-set,” all with a liberal dose of Dennis Miller smirk. The boys are both blessed with the sort of obvious, archetypal personalities that only seem to exist in movies geared at 18-25 year-olds (or in actual 18-25 year-olds) and, as such, both are just ripe for a life-altering road trip™ to smooth out their extremes.

Cue the impetus: sitting stoned and “hungry as balls” on their couch, the duo watch a White Castle commercial—slow-motion landslides of crinkle-cut fries and swaying heaps of burgers—through goggling, bloodshot eyes. The television’s siren song of sliders sends our heroes out on the road, navigating the by-routes of New Jersey in the rapt thrall of Grade-D beef, a journey which expands to suburban Homeric proportions as it’s sabotaged by bad directions, weed, and sex pit-stops, rabid woodland creatures, car theft, self-doubt, and incarceration. Harold & Kumar takes place—significantly—a river away from the prohibitive rents and ritz of Manhattan, in a homely Garden State that combines the pre-fab environment of American sprawl with a diversity that’s distinctly NYC metro; this is the Jersey where stepping off a PATH train is like walking into a U.N. meeting. Harold and Kumar form their kinships here through the melting pot of pot, as with their building’s resident Jewish stoners (David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas, doomed to vie for all eternity with Thomas Ian Nicholas for title of “most forgettable member of the American Pie cast”), or through implicit bonding over outsider status, as with a harassed convenience store owner or a wrongly-imprisoned black academic (who has two gay dads, to boot). The movie envisions inter-minority relations as a harmonious ethnic mash-up; witness Harold’s dreams of Maria, which combine the crazily lucid palette of Asian animation with the operatic iconography of a south-of-the-border western.

The obstacles to Harold and Kumar’s fast-food crusade, by contrast, are almost exclusively Caucasian; the race is represented as an bizarre, idiotic, and intimidating dominant enclave, epitomized in a pack of “whoo”-ing, tribal-tattooed extreme sports types (who have the movie’s funniest line: “Let’s get ourselves some fucking Mountain Dew.”) Other paper targets include a “business hippie” Princeton pot dealer who’s scooped out of jail by his blue-blood mother, replete with Bryn Mawr accent, a precinct-full of dumbly swaggering, moustache-packing, racist cops, and a gross-out detour into old, weird, Americana terrain, populated by a lumbering lunk of deformity named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni, replete with loving, lingering close-ups of pustules straight from “Ren & Stimpy”) and his little peach of a swinger wife. The sole pseudo-exception to the movie’s Anglo-Saxon phobia is Neil Patrick Harris, appearing as himself, ecstasy-addled and abandoned, hitchhiking on a rural state route. Harris’s appearance depends very much on our memory of Doogie Howser, whose precocious prepubescent professionalism made him a likely role model for young, overachieving Pacific Rimmers. N.P.H. (as one patrolman affectionately calls the actor) steals Harold’s car and is spotted later swaying out of the sun-roof, piloting the vehicle no-hands, and huffing coke off of strippers’ asses. Harris’s sweaty, peroxided satyr is something like the haywire mascot for the movie’s ethos, which blows off the burden of expectance on first-generation Americans. “Prodigies of the world,” says Doogie, “Party your potential right the hell away.”

It’s true that the road to lenient reviews is paved with good intentions and, that said, it’s worth grimly noting how often the words “sweet-spirited” have been amply applied to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. But I just can’t look past the movie’s scarcity of full-on laughs; so much of what makes or breaks these proudly puerile flicks is their ability to catch a stupid, silly groove that the audience can comfortably slump back into and ride. Despite an obligatory litany of bodily-function gags and sorry stoner surrealism, the film never hits that retardoid vibe. My litmus test for these things will always be the atmosphere I found in the packed house at a midnight, opening Friday screening of Scary Movie; the crowd seemed ready to levitate through sheer gaga, moronic bliss. But Harold & Kumar’s goofball attitude seems at best affected, as in the scene where the boys (oh, dear!) get an escaped cheetah high, and at worst hand-me-down, as in the “hot girl overheard having violent diarrhea” vignette, lifted from the far-superior weed epic Detroit Rock City.

Harold & Kumar’s chief value isn’t comedic then, but it’s ability to function as a cinematic ambassador of international goodwill. The film champions a goofy multi-culti young America that’s all baggy cargo pants, raging hard-ons, and amiable “Where’s the party?” attitude, certainly a welcome counterpoint to our current “It” girl, Lynndie English. The movie fairly brims with love for the convenient modern USA of fast food, Home Depot, and multiplexes; early on the film seems to be laying up for an absurdist gag, riffing on the visual uniformity of our of contemporary landscape, preparing to put our heroes adrift in a confusion of identical landmarks. But then the set-up floats by unsprung, and I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty for even suspecting Harold & Kumar of that capacity for cynicism. Instead the bland, cultureless architecture of our off-ramp nation comes off as a neutral backdrop upon which any and all ethnicity is equally at home, and the bland, perforated patties of White Castle fare, quite sincerely, as a shining symbol of our national bounty.

So the movie inoffensively bobbles along between wacky scenarios, lubricated with wall-to-wall music; rock is only marginally present, limited to crappy pop-punk tunes that accompany the doofy hijinks of amok preppies. Harold & Kumar confirms hip-hop as the new musical esperanto, the universal, omni-ethnic language spoken by Jay-Z and Punjabi MC, but the movie’s most affecting musical moment is pure pop, as our protagonists let themselves lapse into a passionate car stereo sing-along of Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” (“Don’t you know things can change/ Thing’ll go your way/ If you hold on for one more day”). Balancing irony, cheap generational nostalgia, Wayne’s World-biting, and an acknowledgement of how genuinely, transcendently powerful crap culture can be, this is where Harold & Kumar’s ambitions as a half-baked statement of the American zeitgeist almost come together, coming out in praise of the collectively unifying glue of bad pop.

All said, Harold & Kumar leaves unproven the question of stupid/wacky pot-and-potty humor’s capacity as vehicle for social commentary. But if the movie falls well short of Dreiser as a snapshot of America-as-it-is, it must at least be credited with exhibiting an understanding of this country that’s head-and-shoulders above the David Bowie “Young Americans” montage at the end of Dogville. That, by contrast, is just plain stupid.

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