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Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle works. It’s funny. It’s not non-stop hilarious but it hits more often than it misses, and for a post-college road-trip comedy, that’s probably good enough.

One Toke Over the Line

H&K2: Harold and Kumar Go to Prison
H&K2: Harold and Kumar Go to Prison

Harold and Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn) are roommates. Harold is a brainy, 9-to-5 bean counter, and Kumar is a brainy perpetual student living off the largesse of his dad. Harold is abused at work by the white racists in his department. Kumar, who has the brains for med school, would rather find his own path than follow in his dad’s carefully laid footsteps.

They escape their imperfect lives by toking up and watching TV. (Anti-marijuana TV ads get exactly what they deserve in this movie.) But something is missing. Those little White Castle burgers would sure hit the spot, but there isn’t a White Castle in town. The only solution is a road trip.

They set off into the night in Harold’s buttoned-down silver Corolla in search of the perfect burger.

The Thinking Man’s Bathroom Humor

Of course, the plot is just the backdrop for a series of jokes about drugs, racism, and hormones. Like any comedy in this genre, there are jokes that work and jokes that don’t. There are tasteless jokes about bodily functions and jokes about (and for) horny young men. There are absurd jokes, silly jokes, and surreal jokes.

One would be hard-pressed to find any sort of theme in the jokes (with the possible exception of the annoyances and injustices minorities put up with in America). What I found impressive about the jokes was how smart so many of them were. For example, although the anti-drug ad Harold and Kumar giggle at isn’t real, it is so close (exaggerated for comic effect) that I thought I had actually seen it on TV. There is a grossout bathroom joke, but instead of simply torturing the audience with it, screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg make it a joke at H&K’s expense by making the unfortunate noises and smells come from the girls they thought they were going to score with.

Two more: Kumar falls in love with a big bag of marijuana and the movie resorts to the old soft-focus, love ballad montage between Kumar and the now-anthropomorphic bag of weed; but the scene doesn’t end with them falling in love, it follows their relationship even further and carrying this old joke into new territory. Then there’s Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself. It’s a surreal bit of comedy that probably could have worked with any former TV actor. But again the screenwriters pay off the joke, with interest, by making “Doogie Howser” into an epiphany for the medically trained Kumar.

“Man, That Hit the Spot”

Of course, not every joke works. Bursting pustules and a horny housewife might as well come from any other movie. Same goes for the two wildlife jokes, one involving a raccoon, the other a cheetah. I could probably continue with a long list of jokes that didn’t work.

But the inspired comedy sticks in the memory and the failed jokes fade away, leaving Harold and Kumar with a fond glow. It isn’t brilliant; it doesn’t raise a bar or break new ground; but for a dumb buddy road-trip comedy Harold and Kumar hits the spot.