Nerdy accountant Harold (John Cho) and his irrepressible friend, Kumar (Kal Penn), get stoned watching television and find themselves utterly bewitched by a commercial for White Castle. Convinced there must be one nearby, the two set out on a late-night odyssey that takes them deep into New Jersey. Somehow, the boys manage to run afoul of rednecks, cops, and even a car-stealing Neil Patrick Harris before getting anywhere near their beloved sliders.
For a lot of people out there, there is nothing quite like the stoner comedy. There’s a wide variety to choose from to be sure (particularly the majority of Seth Rogen’s filmography) but one of the most popular of all time is the Harold & Kumar series. Now I’m not too big on these types of movies personally. Stoner comedies just aren’t my thing and I tend to find that a lot of them end up trying way too hard to be funny and instead end up becoming headache-inducing catastrophes.
But I figured “Hey – these Harold & Kumar movies are probably extremely popular for a reason, right?”. So as I was scrolling through the endless void of colorful thumbnails of different films on Netflix today, I didn’t really know what I was in the mood for. I wasn’t feeling a heavy drama today and I just wanted to watch something light and fun. So when I saw that Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was available, I figured I would finally give it a shot.
Now that I have seen it, I sadly wish that I hadn’t. You wouldn’t think that an eighty-eight-minute comedy would be hard to sit through, but boy was this one ever challenging. It actually started out fun enough with a few enjoyable gags and a clever little setup for the rest of the movie to come. One of my favorite scenes (if not my favorite) in the movie is a scene in which the titular buddies drive up to a restaurant called Burger Shack, not carefully reading the sign and thinking it is their local White Castle.
Upon realizing this, they voice their frustration to the employee running the drive-thru and he straight up tells them that “If you’re in the mood for White Castle, this place does not cut it”. This employee becomes so hungry for White Castle burgers and finds so much hatred for Burger Shack that he goes on a rampage through the store as all his co-workers look on in shock. It’s a genuinely hilarious scene in an otherwise poorly written film.
One of the reasons why this film is so poorly written stems from the characters of Harold and Kumar themselves. In this movie, all we really get to know about them is that they are busy people that have to do work the next day so they better get to White Castle quickly. That and the fact that they are best friends.
Strangely enough, while watching White Castle, I was reminded of John Hughes’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Don’t get me wrong PTAT is a far superior film in literally every way imaginable, but this film has a similar feel to it in some regards. The difference is that PTAT boasts excellent humor and wonderfully likable characters. Neal Page and Del Griffith are so likable that we always care about their plight no matter what the circumstances are. Why is that? Because they’re well-realized characters brimming with heart.
Harold and Kumar are a little bit quirky and amusing to watch for about twenty minutes but after that, the appeal wears off almost immediately. Even though I am not a big fan of stoner comedies, I still went into this film with an open mind as I do with every other movie I watch, but even still, this bored me relentlessly.
Not only are the characters poorly written, but the humor here is a mixed bag. There are some instances in which I found myself cracking a smile or chuckling a little bit, but the other half of the time, I found myself cringing and not in a good way. There are a ton of offensive jokes in here that simply would not fly today. Racist jokes and sexist jokes are rampant throughout this film.
And on top of all of that, there’s a ridiculously unfunny and eye-roll-inducing scene early on in which Harold and Kumar race into a women’s bathroom and hide in one of the stalls. Already sounds like it’s going in a bad direction? That’s because it is. Two girls that they find attractive walk in and they each go inside a stall to go number two. But they’re not just doing that. They’re playing a game of Battleship except remove the “p” in “ship” and replace it with a “t”.
The scene goes on for about two minutes or so but it felt like it was going on for ten minutes. It was unbearably unfunny and was easily the worst part of the entire movie. In a way, I can understand why some people enjoy this film and find it a fun distraction, but this was just not for me. Maybe one day I will go ahead and check out the two sequels that followed suit, but that day is probably not going to be anytime soon. After watching White Castle, I’m not sure I want to see where Harold and Kumar end up going next.
Overall Grade: D+
MPAA Rating: R for strong language, sexual content, drug use, and some crude humor
Directed by: Danny Leiner
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Release Date: July 30, 2004
Running Time: 88 minutes