The doobie brothers are back, though wildly diverging lifestyle choices have left the best bud-loving buds all but estranged. Harold (John Cho) continues his ascent at his Wall Street firm, returning each night to his suburban nest, where wife Maria (Paula Garcés) greets him with a demand for baby-making sex. Med-school dropout Kumar (Kal Penn), smarting from his breakup with Vanessa (Danneel Harris), lives in his own filth, blazing while watching reruns and scarfing down waffles. (Penn’s noticeably carbed-out appearance—and his job in the White House—is referred to in the film’s mostly-miss meta jokes.) Christmas is just a few days away, further highlighting how much the two have grown apart: Harold is consumed with pleasing Maria’s Yuletide-worshipping father (Danny Trejo); Kumar has nothing better to do than accompany the cretin who lives across the hall to a party where he has been promised the opportunity to deflower a virgin. A monster joint and a quest to replace a perfect fir tree in Harold’s living room reunite them.
Sort of acknowledging its own unnecessity, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas— directed by first-timer Todd Strauss-Schulson and written, as the first two H & K films were, by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg—at least makes good use of the extra dimension. Clouds of pot smoke drift in front of your nose, a Claymated dong nearly hits you between the eyes, an arc of jizz almost lands in your hair. As in the previous installments, some of the wildly inappropriate gags—like a toddler who ingests pot, coke, and ecstasy—kill, as do many of the visual incongruities: Trejo’s Medellín bruiser in a Christmas-tree sweater reveals the talents of the costume department.
But where Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay gained focus—and potency—in sending up Bush II–era stupidity (and dumb crackers in general), Christmas has no real political targets, save for a tepid, brief acknowledgment of current class rage. The third installment still reads as angry, but the ire comes across as self-loathing, the filmmakers unable to mask their cynicism about their own project. Some of that disdain is manifested in the even more unpleasant treatment of ladies than usual and in Neil Patrick Harris’s usual extended riff on playing “himself.” Once awe-inspiringly outlandish, NPH’s bits have crossed over to merely curdled—nastiness that hits us with blunt force.