Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a wild, sloppy, tasteless, very likeable and pretty funny comedy about what happens when two young New Jersey stoner buddies get a hankering for White Castles and head out on what they believe will be a quick road trip to secure some. Needless to say, things go wrong - terribly, terribly wrong - and the short drive devolves into a marathon of rude encounters, horrible images, nasty odors, threats, near misses and wacky antics galore.
Of course, if this sort of stuff bunches up your shorts, then you'd be well advised to steer clear of the production and wait for the next sophisticated comedy, which should come along in, oh, I dunno, a year or two. Good luck and excuse me while I take my laughs where I can get them.
Thumbs up to the filmmakers for getting two key elements of the film correct. First up is the casting. Instead of the same old faces, we get a pair of talented relative newcomers. John Cho plays Harold, a struggling financial analyst for a New York investment banking firm. Kal Penn plays his roommate Kumar, a pre-med student whose demanding father is a prominent surgeon. Harold spends his days working hard and many of his nights doing even more for his company. Kumar studies by day and intends to at night but, when the evening rolls around, his thoughts turn to women and sex and food and women and marijuana. When Kumar gets high, he shares with his roommate, because that's what you do. Harold resists. And resists. And then he gets high, too, because that's what you do.
And then they see the White Castle commercial, which is the second key element I referred to earlier. Those poor souls who live in places without White Castles won't understand, but we do. When you get a hankering for a White Castle, it must be satisfied. And nothing, NOTHING can substitute for the mini-sandwiches, with that rich, satisfying smell of onion, the thin gray patty and the one- of-a-kind steamed buns - squishy in some places, a bit crispy (if you're lucky) in others.
How fervent is the cult of White Castle? When I lived in Las Vegas, several casinos had an evening each week set aside for Castle-starved locals. Hundreds of us would gather and wait while the burgers were flown in fresh from Chicago. They charged $1.50 per sandwich - and I never heard anyone complain.
Because White Castles are the real deal, you understand the passion of the boys' search. Some cynics may complain that the film represents the biggest product placement of all time, but we know better. The boys are on a dead serious quest for the holy grail of fast food.
And along the way they must deal with fascist skateboarders, a psychotic cop, a creeped-out, boil-covered Samaritan (Christopher Meloni, Oz killer/nudist poster boy Keller and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit star), an escaped cheetah and Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser?!?!), who is off on his own balls to the wall sex and drug-fueled quest.
So there you go. The pacing is erratic, but I laughed too hard to pay much attention. A gross-out scene in a bathroom nearly made me gag, while an encounter with a prisoner in jail nearly made me cry. There are a handful of cameos that I won't reveal here. The casting of Neil Patrick Harris is inspired - he is a riot playing against type. Even more inspired is the casting of John Cho, an all-American kid of Korean descent, and Kal Penn, an all-American kid of Indian descent.
Both actors are good, and their ethnic backgrounds put a fascinating spin on the more stereotypical plot points. If you have a 15-year-old still living inside you, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle will likely make the smart-mouthed twerp happy. Just be sure to treat him to a quick meal on the way home and I don't need to tell you where to go.