Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

(2004) ** 1/2 R
87 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Danny Leiner. Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Steve Braun, Brooke D'Orsay, Neil Patrick Harris.

Well into the double-edged racial breakthrough/stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, John Cho's Harold asks, "What's the deal with Neil Patrick Harris? Why is he so horny?" Harold's buddy Kumar (Kal Penn) answers, "I don't know, but we can't let him interfere with our quest." At this point, something in me snapped that the stoners in the audience had tripped on from the opening frames of this pot-smoking After Hours. I can't say director Danny Leiner's follow-up to Dude, Where's My Car? is a good film exactly, but let's just say its American underdog fantasy of slumming overachievers has a certain je ne sais quoi about it.

This film's Cheech & Chong are both Asian-American, which makes Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle mildly historic and subversive. Cho and Penn have a history of playing third-banana in white-boy sex comedies like the American Pie movies (Cho) and Van Wilder (Penn), but here, they take center stage for their very own stupid movie: an often unpleasant fantasy which resembles a raunchy version of Pee Wee's Big Adventure's absurdist pilgrimage. Afflicted with the munchies, these two will stop at nothing and face down every obstacle until they can break bread at a White Castle burger joint.

Screenwriters Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg make some facile efforts to address racial issues by establishing how Wall Street analyst Harold and pre-med-student Kumar kowtow to slimy white yuppie peers and a domineering father, respectively. After encountering the ultimate victimized black man, a blatantly discriminatory cop, and racist, extreme-sport punks, each hero arrives at a victory of sorts over their indecision and hesitancy. Primarily, the film voraciously pursues the same old outlandish oversexed, drugged-out scatology and absurdist stunts (rendered in super-cheap special effects) of every other disposable teen comedy. One especially odious passage casts Christopher Meloni of TV's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—unrecognizable in pustular makeup and wispy fright-wig—as the husband in a variation of the old fucking-the-farmgirl joke.

Most of the goodwill Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle earns comes from the left-field cameo of Harris and the essential sweetness of the central odd-couple. The long under-valued Cho brings crack timing to bear on the uptight Harold, and newcomer Penn—who in Van Wilder found himself saddled with a cartoon Indian accent—runs away with the loose, dry-witted Kumar in a vein which suggests a young, Asian Bill Murray. A warm heart beats under their comic shells, too: their camaraderie, suggested in the now-obligatory emasculatory singalong (here to Wilson Phillips' "Hold On"), culminates in the inevitable gastronomic reward. "This night is about the American dream," Kumar promises, and you know what? It sort of is.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 7/29/2008

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

Unlike its slacker heroes, New Line has worked hard to produce a very nice "Extreme Unrated" special edition for Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The Blu-Ray high-definition transfer may be on the soft side and therefore unexceptional (and the 7.1 Master Audio track pleasing overkill), but the solid-all-around A.V. presentation gets the job done. On the second disc, there's a bonus digital copy of the film in standard definition. The Blu-Ray extras package mirrors that of the DVD set, though a few of the key ones are presented in HD for significant added value.

The bonus features begin with a clever motion menu delivering original comedy content from stars John Cho & Kal Penn. Along with the feature come with not one, not two, but three bonus audio tracks: feature audio commentary with director Danny Leiner, Cho & Penn; feature audio commentary with writers Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg; and feature audio commentary with Extreme Sports Punk #1 Danny Bochart. All are entertaining and informative, but the third is all but indescribable, with amateur actor/low-totem-pole supporting player Bochart whooping it up about every aspect of his experience and his take on the movie.

Next up is "John Cho & Kal Penn: The Backseat Interview with Bobby Lee" (12:58), a freewheeling, funny mash-up of a Q&A and Taxicab Confessions. The poker-faced mockumentary "The Art of the Fart" (10:39) features Leiner and sound designer Jeff Kushner, seen doing research, field recording and the final mix. "A Trip to the Land of Burgers" (10:44) is a detailed explanation of the film's animated sequence, as told by Leiner, editor Jeff Betancourt, and graphic designer Chevon Hicks. "White Castle Craver's Hall of Fame" (3:08) documents what happened when Harold & Kumar were inducted into same.

The HD "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Sneak Peek" (15:06) has much material in common with the bonus features on that film's Blu-Ray, but enough unique interview clips and behind-the-scenes glimpses to warrant a viewing even if you've explored the other disc. Participants include Cho, Penn, Hayden & Schlossberg, Rob Corddry, Chris Meloni, David Krumholtz & Eddie Kaye Thomas, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Conley, Ed Helms, Roger Bart, and Echo Valley. The disc also includes the "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Red Band Trailer" (3:17).

Cast and Crew Clips (20:04 with "Play All" option) comprise "Director Danny Leiner" (1:42), "Brooke D'Orsay and Kate Kelton" (2:14), "Steve Braun" (2:00),"David Krumholtz & Eddie Kaye Thomas" (3:22), "Writers Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg" (4:17), "Paula Garces" (2:03), "Fred Willard" (1:42) and "Neil Patrick Harris" (2:41).

Presented in glorious HD is an impressive and funny array of Deleted/Alternate Scenes (14:22 with "Play All" option): "Luis Guzmán Scene" (1:40), "Officer Brucks' Weedy Fantasy" (:51), "Almost Shabbat" (:36), "Rosenberg & Goldstein Groove" (1:07), "Extended Truck Scene" (2:37), "Extended Junkyard Scene" (2:00), "Freakshow Sings" (:41), "Kumar's Extended Fantasy" (2:13) and the gag reel "Outtakes" (2:41).

Rounding out the disc are the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:22), "Red Band Theatrical Trailer" (2:21), and Yeah's "All Too Much" Music Video (4:04). Harold & Kumar fans, especially those who don't already own these titles, will find the Blu-Rays of both films worthwhile investments.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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