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Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies

Fast Food. High Times.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 87 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

With 'Up In Smoke' (1978), Cheech and Chong unleashed on an unsuspecting America that most subversive of subgenres, the stoner comedy – essentially a toked-up bud-dy flick which unequivocally celebrates on the cinema screen an activity which is an arrestable offence on the streets outside. From the mid-eighties, however, Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs forced pothead pals underground, so that Bill and Ted were never seen inhaling – and even in the nineties, archetypal heroes of the hemp would get called 'Dumb and Dumber' rather than just plain dope-headed. Then in 2000, like some long-lost stash that has suddenly resurfaced, along came the bodaciously titled 'Dude, Where's My Car?', heralding a new era in undisguised reefer madness. Admittedly it was no masterpiece, but its director Danny Leiner has now elevated the stoner comedy to its highest peak with 'Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies'.

One Friday night, two ripped roommates – shy Korean-American investment banker Harold (John 'American Pie' Cho) and talented if feckless Indian-American medical student Kumar (Kal 'Van Wilder' Penn) – set out in Harold's car to satisfy their TV-inspired cravings for White Castle burgers. Yet soon they have lost their way, their weed and even their car, and must get past an aggressive raccoon, scatological co-eds, a 'business hippy', a boil-covered Jesus-freak and his swinging wife, a bigoted constabulary, a priapic Doogie Howser (played sportingly by Neil Patrick Harris), a gang of extreme sports fans, and an escaped cheetah, in order to fulfil their great American dream of eating copious amounts of junk food.

Harold and Kumar's one-night odyssey may have its fair share of gross-out humour (pubes, 'battleshits', 'love stains' etc.) and hallucinatory weirdness (including a hilarious sequence in which Kumar romances – and is fellated by – a giant animated bag of ganja), but really they are on a journey towards assimilation and acceptance in the white world of White Castle – the irony being that most of the 'all-American' characters they encounter are stupid, racist, perverted, or all three. More subversive still is the way the film slyly suggests that lighting up and getting shit-faced is, or ought to be, as inalienable an American right as eating burgers. Although it is conventional for cinematic stoners to be portrayed as clueless (if amiable) losers, there is nothing hopeless about Harold and Kumar, who are university-educated, well-adjusted professionals who just happen to enjoy a recreational toke or two come the weekend – and despite ingesting considerable quantities of the stuff, they remain articulate and competent throughout the film (at one point Kumar even performs a life-saving operation on a gunshot victim).

All of which makes 'Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies' not just another stoner comedy, but a subtle response to some of the more excessive claims made by the American authorities in their demonisation of dope. The drug might make Harold and Kumar a bit giggly, but they always remain sharper and far saner than all the other folk that they encounter on the backroads of New Jersey. So when a state-sponsored TV ad which declares that 'marijuana kills' prompts the film's heroes to break into uncontrollable fits of laughter, it is difficult not to laugh right along with them – meaning that where 'Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies' is at its funniest, it is also at its most political. You can almost smell the revolution in the air.

It's Got: A rapacious raccoon, battle-shits, a coked-up Neil Patrick Harris humping a carseat, extreme kayaking in a convenience store, a helpful cheetah, and a pile of tiny burgers that bring so much satisfaction.

It Needs: A map.


This multicultural stoner comedy is a hallucinatory trip through the American dream.