Smoking pot makes you hungry. That fact drives Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, this summer’s entry in the perennially popular buddy-picture/road trip genre.
Harold, a Korean American, is a conscientious worker low on the totem pole at an investment banking firm in New Jersey. His best friend, Kumar, is a brilliant but unmotivated son of an Indian surgeon.
Their misadventures begin on a Friday. The workweek’s over, and the pair blows off steam by watching TV and smoking a lot of marijuana. (Kumar stores his pot in a hole in his MCAT pre-test manual.) As the “munchies” set in, a tantalizing commercial for White Castle hamburgers (or “sliders,” as they’re called) appears, propelling the stoned duo off the couch and onto New Jersey’s highways and byways in search of satisfaction.
Harold and Kumar’s journey intersects with a motley crew. Their path leads first to their friends Goldstein and Rosenberg, who are watching a movie … and getting stoned. Their quest then leads them by car, truck, foot, hang-glider and cheetah (yes, you read that right) through Newark, Princeton, New Brunswick and finally Cherry Hill. Along the way they’re stalked by a gang of skater goons in an orange pickup, imprisoned by a redneck cop and “rescued” by a macabre tow-truck operator named Freakshow.
Neil Patrick Harris (of Doogie Houser fame) makes a cameo appearance as a stoned version of himself.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a rare film in that it features two Asian Americans in leading roles. In movies, Asian characters are usually relegated to familiar stereotypes, such as the industrious shopkeepers or geeky computer nuts. They’re rarely treated three-dimensionally, and they are usually on the fringe of the story.
Harold & Kumar challenges these conventions, and devotes center stage to their story. These two young men do not wield accents as ID, nor do they match many of our culture’s ideas about Asians. Scenes of satirical, over-the-top discrimination and harassment also help drive home the point that it’s folly to judge others by their skin or race. In the end, Harold and Kumar learn to defy the racist attitudes of those who’ve belittled them.
One of the strangest characters in the film is Freakshow, who claims to be a Christian. (His face and neck are covered with oozing abscesses, and he looks like a character from a horror film.) His back window sports an “I Love Jesus” sticker, and when he picks up Harold and Kumar (and their car) after they’ve crashed into the woods, he says, “I saw you alone, stranded out there in the dark, and I asked myself: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Have you boys accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” They hurriedly answer yes.
Freakshow later tells the young men that they’re free to sleep with his wife while he fixes the car. So it would seem that Freakshow’s “confession” of faith is intended not as a admirable aspect of his character, but as something that simply makes him that much more, well, freakish.
Early on, Harold finds Kumar in his bedroom standing naked in front the full-length mirror, trimming his body hair. (Kumar’s naked backside is visible twice). When he finally puts clothes on, Kumar’s T-shirt refers to his penchant for a particular part of the female anatomy—and mocks the president.
When the not-so-dynamic duo visits fellow potheads Goldstein and Rosenberg, their friends are eagerly awaiting a nude scene done by one of their favorite actresses. This leads to a graphic discussion of women’s bodies. Many other scenes include vulgar and objectifying references to body parts or sex.
Kumar is trying to buy drugs from a hippie student at Princeton University when two preppy coeds invite him to have sex with them. Kumar tells Harold excitedly, “We’re gettin’ laid, bro!” While Freakshow is fixing Harold’s car, his wife asks if they want to have sex with her. They’re eager to accept her offer until she tells them that it has to be at the same time. She then unbuttons her shirt and reveals her breasts (to the boys and moviegoers), and Freakshow walks in and suggests they make it foursome. Harold and Kumar run away.
Kumar dreams about making love to a giant bag of marijuana. Harold also has a dream sequence in which he makes out passionately with Maria, a girl in his apartment complex. Homosexuals make sexual overtures toward Kumar several times. Topless women are seen sprouting from a car’s sunroof. As they hang-glide, the pair spots a phallic “crop circle” in a field below.
The only thing Neil Patrick Harris wants to do is find someone to have sex with. He suggests they go to a strip club, and later steals Harold’s car and apparently does just that.
In an anti-marijuana commercial that ends with the message, “Marijuana Kills,” a young man smokes pot, then puts the barrel of shotgun in his mouth. He doesn’t pull the trigger on camera, but it’s implied that he committed suicide. (Harold and Kumar mock the commercial.) Several times, a group of racist punks physically intimidates Harold and Kumar. In Newark our witless heroes witness gang members savagely beating two Asians with baseball bats—they do nothing to stop the violence.
A raccoon attacks Harold, biting his neck and drawing a lot of blood. Kumar hastily operates on a man who’s been shot three times and is covered in blood. He pulls three bullets out of the man’s chest and plunges a hypodermic needle into his neck. Punks virtually destroy a convenience store and intimidate the Indian man who operates it.
Harold takes a swing at Kumar, who ducks, and hits a policeman in the face instead. The police believe that a black man who’s already in jail is responsible for another crime, and they violently shove him against a wall to “restrain” him—even though he’s doing nothing to resist. Harold and Kumar fall perhaps 100 feet when their hang-glider crashes into a very tall pine tree.
Strong profanity permeates this film. The writers’ two favorite words are of the f- and s- variety (combined, they’re used more than 100 times). Obscene references are made to sexual anatomy. Less offensive profanities and vulgarities get plenty of exposure as well. Both God’s and Jesus’ names are frequently taken in vain.
The entire movie is structured around marijuana and the munchies. The first scene in which Harold and Kumar smoke pot shows them rolling their own joints, as well as smoking two different bongs. Later, Kumar buys a huge bag of weed, and smokes it with Harold in the stairwell of the dorm. (The bag eventually ends up at the same police station as Harold and Kumar, so, when they escape, they steal it.) Kumar has a dream in which he envisions marrying a human-sized bag of marijuana.
When Kumar runs into his father at the hospital, he pretends to be repentant, hugs his dad and steals his key card in the hope of finding medical marijuana. Harold and Kumar steal the orange truck of the punks who’ve been taunting them. The pair has several opportunities to step in to protect others who are being attacked, yet choose not to do so.
One particularly crude scene takes place in a women’s restroom in a Princeton University dorm. Harold and Kumar are hiding from the police when the two girls they hope to have sex with walk in with severe diarrhea. To “celebrate,” they play a loud, coarse game of “battles—.”
Harold and Kumar each gorge themselves on 30 White Castle sliders.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle seeks to raise our awareness about how stereotypes and racism negatively affect minorities. It does so by helping us see through the eyes of two memorable characters, Harold and Kumar, how damaging and demeaning others’ prejudice can be.
Why then, do its creators make Harold and Kumar smoke dope, chase sex and swear so much that George Carlin himself couldn’t keep up?
The important message about prejudice is thus obliterated by a nonstop barrage of profanity, drug use and sexual content. Worse, the film never questions the wisdom of these characters’ unrestrained indulgences. Harold and Kumar’s appetites for marijuana, sex and food seemingly know no bounds. And consequences for their actions are wholly absent, suggesting fulfillment can be found in unbridled obedience to our bodies’ primal urges for pleasure.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.