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Third chapter in ‘Harold & Kumar’ franchise hits series high

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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The biggest criticism one can levy against the “Harold & Kumar” movies is that they are incredibly scatterbrained, and that’s an understatement.

The central conceit of each film in the series is that the protagonists (John Cho as Harold and Kal Penn as Kumar) wish to perform a single task, yet they are derailed at every turn by drugs, violence, women and Neil Patrick Harris.

In each case, the over-arching plot that strings these random events together is about as flimsy as tissue paper, so it would be counterproductive to criticize a “Harold & Kumar” movie based wholly on its artistic merit.

Instead, judging “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” the series’ third and latest installment, comes down to a single question: does it deliver in the laughs department? This film is little more than a package of crude gags meant to bring out the adolescent boy in us all.

If the gags work, then the film is a success. If they don’t quite hit, then the film is a failure. To think much more about it would be laughable.

In the case of this latest film, the answer is a pretty resounding “yes.” In many ways, it is far funnier than the first two films, which often fell into long, dull stretches between the more effective bits. The best jokes in a “Harold & Kumar” movie come when the absurdity is turned all the way up, and “Christmas” amps up the insanity from moment one and never brings the film back down to Earth. The weirder it is, the more likely the audience is to forgive its multiple digressions that, while humorous, don’t really have much to do with anything.

Take, for instance, the scenes that people tend to remember from each of the first two films — the ones with Neil Patrick Harris.

He is in each movie for about five minutes, yet his name has become synonymous with the names “Harold” and “Kumar.” (He’s even on the poster for “Christmas.”) His moments are often the most ridiculous, yet his are the sequences that audiences are most likely to remember. “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” uses that level of absurdity in each scene, and as a result, this installment’s five minutes of Harris don’t feel quite as comparably weird.

“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” also improves on its predecessors by adding new characters that expand the film’s universe, which in the past has been restricted to whatever our heroes are up to. This has long been one of the series’ greatest problems: Harold and Kumar themselves are a blast to hang out with, but they’ve never really been in a movie that reaches the same level of amiability. (It should be noted that the women in this universe aren’t exactly three-dimensional beings. If they take their clothes off, they serve their purpose). “Christmas” adds new friends such as Todd (Tom Lennon) and Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld), who are often just as fun to hang out with as the titular characters themselves.

This film also doesn’t tone down the series’ trademark self-awareness. In many ways, it raises it to almost-distracting levels. At one point, Harold is referred to as “Sulu,” which is the role Cho played in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” In another moment, a jab is taken at Penn’s non-“Harold & Kumar” job working in the White House. Even more gloriously brazen is the film’s use of 3-D, which never misses an opportunity to throw something — be it smoke, eggs or appendages — at the audience’s face.

The “Harold & Kumar” series has never been afraid of obnoxiousness, and while “Christmas” is the most obnoxious of all, it is also the most consistent installment the series has yet to offer. It still has a tough time focusing, but the ride is pretty darn fun.

 

Grade: B

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