Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004, USA, Danny Liefer) AKA Dude, Where’s My Bong?
Okay, so you wanna know about this movie about a couple of stoners? First, I’d recommend that you take a look at the title. The film’s all about Harold. And Kumar. And their going to White Castle. And it is one helluva mess of a movie. Fortunately, it is one helluva funny one, too.
John Cho, who is terrific in Better Luck Tomorrow, but almost certainly better known for his participation in the American Pie films, is perfectly cast as the uptight, nerdy investment banker Harold, put upon and taken advantage of by his (Caucasian) colleagues. Kal Penn (Van Wilder) gives a breakout performance in the plum role of the brilliant, outgoing slacker Kumar, who will do just about anything to avoid attending medical school and following in his father’s and brother’s footsteps. Cho and Penn play off each other with the sort of comfortable ease and crackerjack comic timing that you would only expect to find in seasoned duos. When Harold and Kumar get ripped and hit the road in search of the Great American Burger, the chemistry of the leads, as well as the motif of travel, at first reminded me in a most curious way of the Hope/Crosby road pictures, but is more clearly in the bong-toting spirit of Cheech and Chong.
Now this is hardly a perfect film, but such is the nature of such episodic comedy fare, where I’m generally content if more than half of the skit-like scenes have a decent payoff. So while I could do w/o the toilet scene and the animatronic racoon and the CGI cheetah, still and all, when you slip past this inferior material, you'll find a movie that is funny far more often than it flops, and which—more importantly—comically challenges the Myth of the American Melting Pot. Harold and Kumar (and any other people of colour) are treated openly as second (or third) class citizens who should be thankful that they’re even allowed to breath good old American air. Midst all the mayhem and depravity, Harold and Kumar makes a pretty pointed commentary about the whole sense of Anglo/Caucasian entitlement that often forces those outside this inner circle, such as people of colour, to harbour bleak prospects when in pursuit of a bit of happiness or searching for their fair share of the American Dream. The humiliation and degradation suffered by Harold and Kumar in their long day’s journey into night is all part of the process of proving themselves greater than their adversaries, and provides the film with its payoff when they finally get to kick some dumb whitey ass. White Castle is Harold and Kumar’s grail, the lads will not settle for anything but the best burgers available. Their quest for the perfect burger is a symbol for nothing less than the immigrants desire to have equal access to the corridors of power in America. Leiner's film is a celebration of the rights of all people from all races, creeds and beliefs to have equal access to the best-damned burger Americans can fry up!
Yeah, I better fess up. I'm one of three critics in the known universe who really dug the way Dude, Where's My Car? gave up some serious lovin' for the whole stoner culture, and now here we have the same director (Danny Leiner) giving it up for more of life's marginalized heroes, Harold the Asian nerd and Kumar the underachieving East Indian. So, this is a clear caveat before I declare my adoration of Leiner’s ouevre, as I am beginning to get that tingly sensation of falling in love with a director's vision. Now, if I can only convince him to get rid of the whole fake animal schtick.