Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Posted: July 4, 2014 in Movie Review
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Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Director: Danny Leiner

Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn

Fast food, one of life’s guilty pleasures, is a great American tradition. In times of economic strife, any meal that won’t cost you more than $10 is desirable. You also don’t have to worry about waiting an eternity to be served. After a long road trip, even something as simple as a rapidly prepared hamburger can be one of the most satisfying things in the world. It’s true that you should always maintain a balanced diet, but when it’s “what you crave,” there can be no substitute.

After getting high in the apartment they share, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), both now having an uncontrollable case of the munchies, search for the right place to quell their hunger. Chinese take-out isn’t the answer, Kumar says. He wants something different, somewhere they haven’t gone to for food in a while. As if listening to Harold and Kumar’s urges, their television presents a commercial for White Castle. After watching this tantalizing ad, both are convinced that nothing else will do but those little square burgers. Such a premise would lend itself well in short-film form. As “Harold & Kumar” lasts just shy of 90 minutes, you know they aren’t going to get there so easily.

Harold’s having a pretty tough time enjoying his high. He’s been suckered by co-workers into doing their assignments for them as though they were all still in high school. He’s also crushing hard on his hot young neighbor, Maria (Paula Garcés), but completely lacking the courage to speak to her even though they frequently ride the elevator together. Kumar is a bit more carefree than his friend. He could become a greater doctor even than his father and brother, but all Kumar really wants to do is get high, get laid, and otherwise generally have fun without the burden of responsibility. Thus, although they will go on this quest together, it’s Harold who is on a personal journey. He needs to “man up,” and it’s going to take run-ins with psychotic cops, a deformed auto mechanic, an “extreme” gang of vandals, the student body of Princeton University, and Neil Patrick Harris (as a VERY heterosexual version of himself) to see that he gets there.

In addition to NPH, “Harold & Kumar” is littered with cameos from famous faces. Ryan Reynolds appears briefly as a gay doctor. Funnyman Fred Willard shows up early on to conduct a job interview with Kumar, before being disgusted by his lack of restraint regarding vulgarities. The greatest of all is “Law & Order: SVU”‘s Christopher Meloni. Once you know it’s him underneath all of that hideous makeup as Freakshow, the auto mechanic, it makes his scenes that much funnier. In the years since the release of the film adaptation of the “Watchmen” graphic novel, it’s also a hoot(er) to see Malin Åkerman as his wife, Liane.

“Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” stands firm as an example of how to do blatant product placement the right way. This isn’t like “Mac and Me,” the hideous 1987 “E.T.” clone which exists only as an extended plug for Coca-Cola, Skittles, Sears, and of course McDonald’s. At least Harold and Kumar made plans from the get-go to wind up at a fast food restaurant, and at least they don’t get lost in some half-assed dance routine that brings the movie to a screeching halt. White Castle has been a part of American culture since 1921, decades before the first McDonald’s was opened. As such, this makes White Castle the second oldest fast food franchise in the United States (behind only A&W). Despite this, White Castle is not as widely distributed as some of its successors. There is not one location near where I live, however one can easily find Krystal (whose founder got the idea to sell little square hamburgers from a visit to White Castle), and I CAN find boxes of microwavable White Castle burgers in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. This comes in handy because, every time I sit down to watch the funniest pair of stoners since Cheech & Chong, I always develop a craving of my own afterwards.

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