There's a fine line between comedically smart and stupid, a line Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle manages to straddle with admirable aplomb.
The story is simple - two smart, but very stoned, roommates embark on a cross-Jersey quest for White Castle sliders - the Northeast equivalent of a Krystal burger.
The pair encounter escaped wildlife - an amorous odd couple, extreme-sport enthusiasts who take their behavioral cues from junk-food commercials, and Neil Patrick Harris, of Doogie Howser fame - all while deflating racial stereotypes and elevating mostly juvenile sexual and scatological humor to high-as-a-kite surrealist art.
Amazing in its audacity, Harold & Kumar is a movie willing to take mostly successful risks. In a sequence at Princeton University, it builds a monument to the oft-accepted image of the Asian-American scholar - smart, serious and certainly naive - and then, just when an audience believes it understands the answers, pulls the figurative ripcord. It plays the race card as a weapon, allowing us to laugh uncomfortably, and then uproariously, at accepted conventions.
As with the tiny burgers so central to the proceedings, there are moments when the audience might feel, well, less than satisfied with Harold & Kumar. A sequence involving the herbal sedation of a cheetah takes too many liberties with audiences' willingness to accept the unacceptable, and the film also seems too eager to wrap up its loose ends, tying up plot fragments with convenient rapidity so the film can conclude in a laugh-friendly 90 minutes.
Still, risk means accepting falling and failing, and reward means failing less than you succeed. By those standards, Harold & Kumar is a rude, crude, socially sad and certainly funny success.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (New Line Cinema, $27.95; available Tuesday)
EXTRA FEATURES: Although loaded with the expected extras - making-of documentaries, commentary tracks, outakes and the like - the gem on this DVD is a backseat interview with stars John Cho and Kal Penn, moderated by comedian Bobby Lee, who plays a small role in the film. The interview, basically a cruise around the streets of Los Angeles on a rain-soaked afternoon, highlights the role comic chemistry played in the film's success.the verdict: * * * out of * * * * *