Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) are a couple of stoner buddies looking to get their weekend started off right. That entails multiple bong hits and zoning out in front of the TV. When they’re both seized by an attack of the munchies, they realize only one destination will satisfy them: White Castle. So begins an outrageous evening that sees our duo battling weed shortages, extreme bullies, corrupt cops, and more…all in the pursuit of perfect burgers!
Only a stoner comedy could turn a bout of the munchies into such an epic tale of misadventure. A supreme comedy of errors, few films manage to outdo the non-sequitir madness that is Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Its raucous and outrageous series of events is matched only by its clever wit and a surprisingly sharp script. Screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg manage to craft humorous random events and pull them together with a clear through-line of subversive social satire and good old fashioned buddy tropes. White Castle is ultimately a MacGuffin, as it’s the quest that provides the sustenance of the soul; if there’s something to be learned amidst all the smoky haze and flatulent bathroom stalls, it’s that sometimes you’ve just got to stand up for what you believe in. For some, that might be the perfect burger; for others, it might mean finally pushing back against life’s insistence to constantly hurl shitty luck at you.
If this all sounds surprisingly serious, fret not. There’s never a dull moment as the pair encounter everything from a disfigured, backwoods tow-trucker named “Freakshow” (Christopher Meloni) to Neil Patrick Harris (one of the truly inspired oddball cameo appearances of all time). In between, they get thrown in jail, perform urgent surgery, and encounter a wild animal in the woods. At one point, Harold proclaims that he can’t take anymore; that comes about 30 minutes in when the insanity is just getting started. Though it would all work as a perfectly fine sophomoric romp, the satirical undercurrent make this one smarter than the average stoner comedy. The skewering of ethnic and social stereotypes is hilariously spot-on; our two leads are of course minorities (and each lead actor played token ethnic characters in movies like American Pie and Van Wilder) and encounter racist assumptions throughout their journey. They also encounter other minorities, such as their Jewish friends and a fat black guy who “has two gay fathers” (but a large penis) who has unfairly been thrown into jail despite his civil disobedience.
None of this would work though without the fine cast of characters. A random, silly quest for White Castle is something you only care about if the dudes involved are a couple of likable guys like Harold and Kumar. The former is the uptight straight-laced one who needs to grow a backbone and learn to stand up for himself. Of course, one of the people he can’t say “no” to is Kumar, his impetuous, inappropriate counterpart who loves weed so much that he fantasizes about it like it’s his lover. One might wonder how these two polar opposites became best friends, but you never doubt for a second that they are thanks to the chemistry between Penn and Cho. Surrounding them is a spectacular ensemble of memorable characters like the grotesque Freakshow and his incongruously attractive wife (Malin Ackerman).
The aforementioned Jewish friends Goldstein and Rosenberg (David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas) are the film’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and their pursuit for the evening is even less ambitious than their friends’: they simply want to sit at home and watch The Gift to see Katie Holmes’s breasts (and Goldstein’s later description of them is wildly inappropriate, even more so considering his Jewish heritage). And then there’s NPH portraying a sensational fictionalized version of himself who spends the entire evening “tripping balls” and chasing ass. His inexplicable appearance best captures the madness of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle; it’s a completely random interlude that signifies the bizarre world our heroes have smoked their way into.
That bizarre world is one that will also strike a chord with anyone with ridiculously rotten luck. Anything that can go wrong for these two does go wrong, but there’s an admirable quality about their perseverance to achieve such a seemingly petty goal. Their singular commitment to something so inane is perhaps the film’s best punch-line but also its most deceptive ploy; would anyone really go to such lengths for a burger? Probably not, but we should--after all, getting exactly what you want is part of the American Dream. Whether it’s a fast food delicacy or that hot chick down the hall you don’t have the guts to talk to, sometimes, you’ve just got to take it. A trusty bag of the best sticky-icky probably helps in such causes; you won’t need one to laugh all the way through this one though. Easily one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, I imagine it suddenly becomes Citizen Kane once you toke up (not that Orson Welles ever came up with anything as great as "Battle-shits"). (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: