By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

Ah, yes: revive a popular franchise, include “Christmas” in the title, and toss in the gimmick of the moment, 3D. Wholesome holiday-season family entertainment, right?  Well, not exactly.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is very Harold & Kumar, very 3D, and very Christmas, as it were.  But it’s also surprisingly warmhearted and Christmas cheery in spite of itself.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas follows Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004) and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), and is another slacker/stoner flick with the bar set low in the decades-old tradition of Cheech and Chong.

(2½ stars out of 4.)

In other words, the marquee promises marijuana-marinated misadventures.

The odd-couple road romp features Korean-American John Cho as Harold Lee and Indian-American Kal Penn (returning to the big screen after a stint as associate director of the White House office of public liaison for the Obama administration — slacker, my eye!) as Kumar Patel, reprising their title roles as a New Jersey investment banker and an ex-medical student, respectively.

As the film begins, H & K have been out of touch for years, their friendship on hold.  But then a mysterious package for Harold arrives on Kumar’s doorstep, bringing them together, and they soon inadvertently burn down Harold’s gruff father-in-law’s cherished Christmas tree.

This sends them through the streets of New York City in desperate search of an exact replacement for the tree.

So, yes, the narrative is just as silly and flimsy as it’s been in the past, merely a clothesline on which irreverent jokes and anything-for-a-chuckle bits can be hung.  But, like the holiday song says, they’re hung by the chimney with care.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas just wouldn’t be a legitimate part of the franchise if it didn’t feature Neil Patrick Harris playing a fictionalized version of himself.  This time he gets to show off his song-and-dance prowess just enough to remind us why his career has taken off between Harold & Kumar outings.

Like its predecessors, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is another lowbrow, raunchy, scatological cannabis comedy with a playful premise, diversity-celebrating casting, and more break-the-fourth-wall gags than you can count.

Todd Strauss-Schulson, a television director making his feature-film debut, applies the same formula as in the past to give his target audience a friendly communal experience.  And he delivers more than a few knee-slapping yuks.

The script is by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who also wrote the first two installments and directed the previous sequel.  Once again, they traffic in gross-out and R-rated humor (which overlap by plenty), and this time also send up and invert just about every Christmas-movie convention there is.

As for the 3D element (there is certainly nothing else three-dimensional about the franchise), well, it’s not exactly necessary, but at least the film has fun fooling around with the ever-more-familiar 3D conventions.

Penn and Cho, lighting up to light up their appreciative audience, remain likable leads in relaxed roles that fit them comfortably.  And if you’ve seen either or both of their first two pairings, you know whether or not you want to see this literally and figuratively dopey movie.

So we’ll smoke 2½ stars out of 4.  Is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas the best 3D Christmas stoner flick ever made? Yes.  Is it the only 3D Christmas stoner flick ever made? Also yes.  But is it a bad 3D Christmas stoner flick? Happily, no.

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