A Crave Case of the Munchies
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
I don't have a lot of reviews of White Castle food on the site. I'm not opposed to White Castle. While I am not a regular, even when I lived by a White Castle, their sliders are certainly delectable in the right setting. You know, on a bachelor weekend, or when it's really late and you're tired and wired and need just that right greasy hit to keep you going. White Castle is late night, up all night, drunken, stoner, bar food. It's amazing, but you absolutely need to be in the right mind space for it. And, honestly, I didn't see them run a ton of specials that seemed like buying their food explicitly for the site was needed. Anyone that has had White Castle (whether fresh from a restaurant or from the frozen section of the grocery store, which taste about the same) knows exactly what their burgers are like. No review needed.
With that said, there is no denying that when the mood is right, White Castle is legit. When the craving hits, you need it, and if you can't get their greasy goodness, it sucks. That's the message of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a stoner, road trip comedy about, well, two stoners on a road trip to find a White Castle. They had the craving, and nothing else would satisfy. If you've never been to White Castle (like I hadn't before seeing this movie all the way back in 2004) then this probably seems beyond silly. For anyone in the know, though, this is the most logical plot that Hollywood has ever concocted.
Harold Lee (John Cho) is a high strung office rat, a guy that can't help but say "yes" to his co-workers when they ask for help (or tell him to do their work for him) even when he knows he should. He hates being stuck as "that Asian accountant guy", even if he fits most of the stereotypes, and would rather spend the weekend at home, with his buddy Kumar (Kal Penn), getting blitzed and watching John Hughes films. But he gets a pile of work dumped on him by a shitty co-worker, Billy Carver (Ethan Embry), and his weekend is seemingly ruined.
Kumar, meanwhile, is a slacker pre-med post-graduation student who really should go into Med School because that's what his father wants, but all Kumar wants to do is sit around and get blazed with his pal Harold. When Harold gets home on a Friday night, loaded down with other people's paperwork, Kumar gets him to sit on the couch and smoke a fat one. They laugh, they watch TV, they chill... and then they see a commercial for White Castle and they know exactly what they want to eat. All they have to do is find the only White Castle left in New Jersey and get all the sliders they can eat. And yet, at every turn, bad things happen that keep them farther and farther from their goal...
Let's be clear, as far as plot is concerned, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle has very little. it has some running characters and jokes, like the Extreme Sports douche-bros (who are probably the one gag of this film that has aged to worst in the last twenty years), or Harold always worrying about his work, or Kumar constantly trying to get a hold of a giant bag of weed that keeps showing up, but there really isn't any plot, per se. It's just a series of random adventures the dudes find themselves in, all while they keep pushing towards the White Castle. I'm sure for some, then, this film would probably annoy them simply because there's so little story to it.
Now, in fairness, the lead characters do go on something of an emotional journey. Harold starts the night as a big of a push over, letting everyone walk all over him while he fails to get the courage up to do anything. Kumar, meanwhile, is a slacker who doesn't want to dive into the life he was meant for, being a doctor, even though he knows his stuff and is actually pretty good at it. By the end of the film, though, they've each found the motivation they needed; Harold stands up for himself against the Extreme jerks as well as the co-worker that tried to screw him over, and Kumar realizes he really wants to be a doctor. It's good growth for both of them, motivated by all the shit they go through in one long night.
But with that said, what you're really here for are the antics. The film lives and dies on its various skits as the night stretches on, and not all of them are good. There are some really funny bits. Ryan Reynolds shows up when the two end up at the hospital for a quick E.R. visit, and his sexual energy leads to a few really good laughs. There's a scene where the two blaze up with an escape cheetah that's pretty funny (and really dumb). And, yes, Neil Patrick Harris shows up (not as himself but as "Neil Patrick Harris"), stealing absolutely every scene he's in. These moments are great.
At the same time, there are skits that just don't play. A sequence with two girls in the bathroom playing "Battleshits" while they take dumps is gross. The extreme sports assholes aren't funny at all, just irritating. A long sequence after Harold gets arrested and the two try to escape the police station goes on way too long. And there's a really uncomfortable (and gross) section after the guys have car trouble and get picked up by a tow truck drive named "Freak Show". Oh, and there's probably more gay panic humor in the film than was really needed by 2004 (and especially now).
The point is that, for a movie of this type, you have to be in the right mindset for the film. It helps if you're young enough that every crass joke and bit of potty humor works for you. I did giggle during "Battleshits", but it also went on long enough that the joke died (faster than whatever those two girls ate). But if you're young, or stoned, or both, than probably this movie will work for you without question. It's a stoner movie about two stoners getting stoner food. It works on just that level and it's hard to argue with it. You get what's advertised.
I don't think that excuses everything but it's hard to get down on a film when it knows exactly what it wants to be. As far as stoner road trip films are concerned, I think Dude, Where's My Car? is probably the superior experience because, like Harold and Kumar, it's dumb and silly, but it's jokes work whether you're stoned or not. For Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, you really need to be in the mindset of the lead characters for it to work.
But at the same time, this is a silly, shaggy film that just wanted to have a good time. And it does. You have fun hanging out with Cho and Penn and Harris as they get up to wacky hi jinx and do dumb shit. It's not high art... or, I mean, it is high art, but not, like, fine cinema. It's a pot brownie of a film, just waiting for you to have a bite do you can indulge. That's all it needs to be and, for the right crowd, it works. I might not come back to the film over and over again, but every once in a while I, too, want to enjoy these two characters on their stupid quest to get some good stoner food. Sometimes that's all you need.