This unpretentiously genial little stoner comedy has a couple of things going for it. The characters and jokes are a bit above average for a genre with admittedly low standards. And its very unambitiousness gives the film moments that almost approach charm.
That said, it’s still mostly just extremely dumb and vulgar.
The title sums up the plot. Harold (John Cho) has a job that requires him to analyze numbers and a crush on a pretty girl in his building. He also has a big assignment that has just been dumped on him by his boss. Kumar (Kal Penn) is a slacker whose only ambition is not to become a doctor like his father and brother. Oh, and to get completely baked, with which Harold concurs.
Once happily stoned, the duo realize that there is only one more thing they need to achieve perfect happiness, those scumptious square hamburgers from White Castle. But the nearest White Castle is a long drive away and it will get a lot longer as Harold and Kumar run into all kinds of characters and adventures along the way.
Many of those adventures are gross and disgusting. Then there are those that are even more gross and disgusting. Most of them are downright stupid as well. Somewhere in there, though, there are a couple of moments that are funny, sweet, and even smart, and some commentary on race and ethnicity that almost qualifies as subtle. Cho and Penn are engaging, especially when they sheepishly but then with increasing joy sing along with Wilson Phillips, and there are appearances by Fred Willard, Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself as a child star gone very, very bad), Anthony Anderson and, perhaps in a nod to Bringing Up Baby, an escaped cheetah. I also give it extra credit for avoiding the obvious forms of triumph over the bad guys.
Parents should know that this movie wallows in bad taste and is cheerfully vulgar and offensive in every possible category. It includes constant drug use, bad language, extremely explicit toilet humor, and frequent and explicit sexual references and situations. There is comic violence, some graphic, including a scene in surgery with a lot of blood and a disfigured man. While some characters are bigoted and there is a lot of homophobic and racist humor, a strength of the movie is the portrayal of diverse characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Harold and Kumar deal with pressure from family and co-workers. What does it mean to say that “the universe tends to unfold as it should?” They might also want to talk about their own views on alcohol and drugs. And they might want to try to find a White Castle!
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Up in Smoke.