Pot smoke, mounds of coke and little, bitty Ecstasy pills. Urine, feces and semen. Topless nuns, stoned kids and a bloody Santa Claus. And of course, a singing and dancing Neil Patrick Harris.
These are among the many things that get thrown at the wall — sometimes literally — in “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.” Very few of them stick. This third film in the “Harold & Kumar” franchise is inordinately jacked up with visual effects and peppy holiday music, but nothing can disguise the fact that this series has run out of steam, that the film’s stars have outgrown the roles that made them famous.
Even references to the celebrity they’ve achieved outside these movies — that John Cho played Sulu in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” and Kal Penn worked for President Obama’s administration in the White House Office of Public Engagement — feel too cute. And as is so often the case, they’re just not all that funny. Much of the humor comes from the same tired, repetitive stoner shtick. The main difference is that when someone takes a long hit off a bong (or joint or pipe), the smoke comes wafting toward you from the screen.
Yes, the use of 3-D is super gimmicky, but hey, at least director Todd Strauss-Schulson is consistent in staying with it the whole way through in making his first feature. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the 2004 cult hit “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and wrote and directed the 2008 sequel “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” are credited with the screenplay, but very little of the original daring and verve remains.
By this point, Cho’s Harold and Penn’s Kumar have grown apart. Harold is a Wall Street big shot (with the obligatory protestors chanting outside his window) living a comfortable suburban life and trying to have a baby with his wife, Maria (Paula Garces). Kumar, meanwhile, remains disheveled and stoned all day in his rundown apartment, having been kicked out of medical school for failing a drug test.
A convoluted set of circumstances involving deflowering a virgin, finding the perfect Christmas tree and outsmarting Ukrainian mobsters creates the opportunity for these two old friends to reconcile. They also get a chance to reunite with Harris, who revisits the role that helped reinvigorate his career: a fictionalized, drugged-up, hyper-sexualized (and voraciously straight) version of himself. Harris smoothly rides a fine line between smiling, preening TV star and scheming, predatory fiend. When he’s on screen, there’s an exciting and even dangerous air about the movie that’s missing elsewhere, with the raunchiness of the R-rated comedy now seeming so pervasive and tame.
A couple of other elements to point out in this hodgepodge of cinematic styles and silly subplots: a Claymation sequence when the pals go on a bad drug trip that’s darkly paranoid and good for a few laughs; and the Wafflebot, a talking droid that serves fresh waffles and loyally follows its owner. You don’t have to have the munchies to enjoy it, but being under the influence of something might make the film a lot more effective.