Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, 2004, ¾ star

Harold and Kumar should have stayed home

From OrlandoCityBeat.com, July 30, 2004

Directors Stanley Kubrick and Danny Leiner have something in common: Kubrick once had diarrhea, and Leiner likes to make movies about it. His follow-up to Dude, Where’s My Car?, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, is one big, unfunny, unbelievable, hackneyed, disgusting commercial for the burger joint.

Speaking of joints, Harold, a hard-working but shy investment banker, and his roommate Kumar, an underachieving medical-school candidate, are sitting around smoking them when they see a TV commercial for White Castle. This fuels their wicked case of the munchies, and they set out on their Castle quest, undeterred by the fact that the closest one is 40 miles away.

The two roomies soon learn that they should have ordered in, as their road trip yields one disaster after another. They are almost busted for pot possession, are attacked by a potentially rabid raccoon, have their car stolen by Neil Patrick Harris of TV’s Doogie Howser  – don’t ask – and are harassed by the same stereotypically bad-ass bunch of bullies over and over again. We are left wondering if the two will ever reach their destination and if this movie will ever end, despite a running time of less than 90 minutes.

Leiner’s directorial mistakes come often and in groups, assisted by a script written on a seventh-grade level. Despite surprisingly competent performances by John Cho, as Korean-American Harold, and Kal Penn, as Indian-American Kumar, the film never establishes believability, sympathy for the plight of the roommates or humor beyond an occasional chuckle at how predictable, juvenile and repetitious the gags are. And if you enjoy extra helpings of tired racial jokes, trite toilet humor, pot references and genital-size jabs, dig in.

At its heart, Harold & Kumar is a gross-out, stoner comedy masquerading as something bigger – a soul-awakening experience for Harold, who, buoyed by his harrowing ordeal, gets up the nerve to tell off his abusive co-workers and ask out the girl of his dreams. Kumar too is supposed to grow following this life-altering fast-food pilgrimage, by not only realizing he is throwing away his potentially bright future as a doctor but by also reconciling with his father.

Leiner and his writers were faced with a choice. Do they make an imaginative, surreal, pointless comedy with a few potty jokes thrown in to satisfy their fans or do they make us care about Harold and Kumar and really relate to their escapades? By not making that hard choice, as he clearly does not have the talent to combine both formulas into one film, Leiner serves up this burger undercooked in laughs and overdone in adolescence.

After one of their more disturbing adventures, Harold and Kumar agree to “never talk about what just happened.” I couldn’t agree more. Next time, order your burger with a side of fries, but hold the movie.