Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
By Kim Hollis
July 30, 2004
There's a seminal moment in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle when our heroes come to the stunning realization that their automobile has been stolen by one Doogie Howser, M.D. The depth of emotion conveyed by the leads is so riveting that it's at this exact moment you know the film is destined to be a classic of modern cinema.
Okay, so I exaggerate. But that doesn't mean that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle isn't one of the funniest young adult comedies since young Jim Levinstein learned all about the wiles and warmth of golden apple pie. The most essential difference between the two films'approaches is that while American Pie has a sweet story to counterbalance the testosterone-driven humor, Harold and Kumar swings for the fences with its crudity and occasional coarseness with no reservations. And it works.
Like such luminaries as Bill and Ted and a gaggle of hobbits before them, Harold and Kumar's tale revolves around a mystical, magical adventure. Harold, a young accountant, is stressed in his job, particularly because his slacker coworkers rely on him to cover for them when they goof off. Kumar is a brilliant young man who is being approached by all the major medical schools, but has no interest in attending (despite his father's most fervent wishes). After spending some quality time with the reefer one evening, the pair decides that they are - natch - hungry. But not just any food will do. The siren song of White Castle beckons, and there is nothing - not even a forgotten cell phone 50 feet away - that will stop Harold and Kumar in their quest.
Along the way, Harold and Kumar's metaphysical journey brings them in contact with numerous obstacles - from a doofy group of bullies to an angry raccoon to a rather excitable employee of a fast food chain that tries to rival the glory of White Castle but can't quite attain the same heights. The brand of humor the writers and director go with works most of the time, though there are a couple of notable missteps where the reliance on (literal) toilet humor goes just a bit too far to be funny or comfortable.
But frequently, it's pushing the limits that makes Harold and Kumar so much fun. The pacing of the laughs gives one almost no time to rest even when one of the jokes falls flat. The comedy leaps from intelligent to super dumb effortlessly and in a single bound.
Much of the reason Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle works so well is the strength of its leads. John Cho (who might be best known for his role as one of the "MILF" guys in the American Pie series) had already demonstrated substantial talent in last year's underrated Better Luck Tomorrow, but here he's allowed to embrace the Felix Unger-type personality of Harold with convincing aplomb. His partner in crime, Kal Penn, is wildly charismatic and displays superb comic timing. This is a young man who deserves to be a star.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle also has a number of effectively-used cameos, including Neal Patrick Harris as a ridiculous caricature of himself. There are a number of other well-known faces from the Kal Penn/John Cho inner circle as well, though to reveal them all would certainly spoil the surprise. In Doogie's case, his presence is already pretty well common knowledge anyway thanks to the marketing.
Make no mistake - the movie is silly and for the most part a trifle, but it's such a fresh, unique approach to the genre that it manages to somehow hang around as more than a fond memory. The writers, actors and director have a keen awareness of exactly what makes dumb (but somehow smart at the same time) comedies like this one so much fun.