Friday, July 22, 2011

The Greats: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Rich over at Wide Screen World has come up with a clever meme called My Hometown Blogathon. The task: write about a film that takes place in your hometown or state. I suppose I could have done an early Kevin Smith film. I grew up about 10 minutes away from the central Jersey towns that were featured in Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy. But I decided to go a different route and revisit a film that is much more personal to me, a film that touches me on a level far deeper than any Kevin Smith movie. Yes, I'm talking about Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).

Full disclosure: I never smoked pot, and I never liked White Castle. I never travelled across the state of New Jersey to satisfy a severe case of the munchies. However, there are a lot of reasons why this film is so special to me. So pull down those trousers, grab the nose-hair scissors and let's go trim our pubes.

Dude, am I really high, or is this actually working?!

I was born and raised in a town called Freehold, located squarely in the middle of New Jersey. I was a drama geek in high school, acting in as many plays as I was allowed to. One of my favorite productions was Mary Chase's Harvey, the story of a man who befriended an invisible rabbit. Jimmy Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd in the film version and guess who played him on the stage at Freehold Township High School? No, not me. I was Security Guard #2, thank you very much. Dowd was played by a young talented fella by the name of Kalpen Modi.

You might know him as Kal Penn.

Or Kumar.

Kal has always been a gifted performer. Every day in practice, he would insist on making us laugh. If there was any one person in that high school who would make it big, it was clearly him.

Side note: Kumar may be his most popular role, but I thought Kal was terrific in The Namesake. Seek it out if you haven't. After a hiatus from acting to work for President Obama, Kal will be heading back to TV this fall for a major role on How I Met Your Mother, reuniting him with the legen-wait for it!-dary Neil Patrick Harris.

Back to Kumar. This is the movie that put him on top and, if you think about it, it should never have worked. On paper, it's nothing more than a stoner comedy filled with dick jokes, racial puns and a coked-up former child actor "playing himself." How on earth did this movie ever succeed?

Did Doogie Howser just steal my fucking car?

The key ingredients are the two leads - Penn and John Cho. The chemistry between these guys is palpable and genuine. Kumar and Harold are hardly alike, but they share a love for weed, White Castle burgers and boobies. Sometimes that's just enough to bring two dudes together and bond them for life. The fact that these two are minorities also strengthens their connection. The film plays with their ethnicities to hilarious effect, making it stand out from the stoner comedies that preceded it (i.e., Dude, Where's My Car, which is clearly an inspiration). The white people in this movie are either racist or insane, while the "foreigners" are portrayed as calm and logical. Subversive stereotyping. That's the hook of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. That's what gives this film its "edge."

Yeah... Just because you are hung like a moose doesn't mean you gotta do porn.

Also key to the film's success: New Jersey. The garden state plays a major part in their journey. Our dope heads start off in Hoboken where they live, and after a disastrous detour from Newark where they witness a beating, they finally end up in New Brunswick. Of course when they arrive, they discover that the White Castle they thought was there has been taken over by the Burger Shack (today's special sauce: animal semen!). The closest 24-hour White Castle is now all the way down in Cherry Hill.

(That's a lie, by the way. There is no White Castle in Cherry Hill. In fact, the closest White Castle is in Jersey City, a mere 15 minutes from Hoboken. But that wouldn't have made an exciting movie, right?)

So they leave New Brunswick and stop at Princeton where they discover: a big bag of weed, English girls with severe cases of the taco shits, and a group of Asians who worship Harold and the ground he walks on. It's a most fateful of pit stops, I must say.

Harold: ...The universe tends to unfold as it should.
Kumar: What is that? Some fortune cookie?
As they tear out of that college town, they get lost and find themselves in Freehold. My hometown! In fact, the hospital they end up in is called Freehold General Hospital, which is a fictional representation Freehold Area Hospital (now called CentraState) where I was born. I like that Kumar's father and brother worked at this hospital. This informs us that Kumar's family resides in the Freehold area, just like Mr. Penn himself back in the day.

After the hospital vignette (where Ryan Reynolds hilariously appears as a nurse who has the hots for Kumar), they are instructed to "get on 33 west, and head south on the Turnpike," and that's exactly right. The writers' attention to geographical detail was satisfying and crucial to my enjoyment of the film.

Though the film gets those details right for the most part, some instances don't make much sense. Seeing Maria (who lives in Hoboken) at a movie theater in Princeton is a bit of stretch, but I'll allow it. What I can't accept, however, is the guys who were beaten in Newark ended up in the Freehold hospital! Now how is that possible? Newark is a good 45 minutes away, so it makes no sense for them to seek care in Freehold (unless, of course, they too got lost on the way to Cherry Hill). And don't get me started on the whole idea of running into the Extreme Sports Punks in every other town in the state. Contrary to the popular belief of the film's writers, there are more than three highways in New Jersey!

But you know what? Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle can have all of the plot holes in the world, and I will still love it. I wanna make sweet love to it like Kumar does with a big bag of weed, and leave love stains alongside NPH in the back of the Camry. I wanna ride that cougar across town in between Roldy and Chocolate Lips. I wanna suck on that shofar with Goldstein and Rosenberg, and join them as they watch Katie Holmes take off her shirt in The Gift. I wanna to be the first to do a reach-around with Freakshow, his hot wife, and the boys. And even though I detest White Castle, I wanna sit with our heroes and watch them devour 30 sliders, 10 orders of fries and 5 large diet cokes.

I'll do it, man. I'll ride with Harold and Kumar in their quest for the best munchies in the glorious state of New Jersey any day of the week.

Dude, on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being not so extreme and 10 being extremely extreme, I give this a 9.5!


Rich said...

My post on H&K (done months ago) has gotten more hits than any other post on my blog by a wide margin. Could it be simply because it's a stoner movie, you suppose?

Thanks for your post. I too liked Kal Penn in 'The Namesake.'

Dave said...

Rich, I'm unsure why your post got so many hits. So far, mine's not nearly as "successful" as the "Best of" Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman posts. I stopped trying to figure out my audience a while ago.

Thanks for the inspiring me to write it up for your blogathon. :-)


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