Harold (John Cho) works in the offices of a large company, but finds himself landed with all the accounts that nobody else wants to take care of, as today, a Friday, when he has to stay behind to catch up on someone's work as a "favour" - except he was actually too polite to say no. However, as he digs into the pile of paperwork he calls up his flatmate Kumar (Kal Penn), to say he'll be back late tonight, but Kumar, who is in the middle of a medical school interview, is disdainful and tells him they will be smoking weed on the sofa this evening no matter what...
So began the Harold and Kumar saga, a series of stoner comedies that at first glance would appear to have been designed by the writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg to appeal solely to those currently high while the movies were playing. When this first instalment was released, it was often described as a follow up to director Danny Leiner's previous effort Dude, Where's My Car? (listen out for that very line near the end), but this buddy movie went on to eclipse that one thanks to the longevity of the pair as comedy characters. Much of that could be laid at the door of the genuine camaraderie Cho and Penn worked up.
There was always the worry that if you were stone cold sober, the humour might be lost on you, but everyone here demonstrated how far things had come since the heyday of Cheech and Chong, and the benchmark of stoner cinema, Up In Smoke. For one, the invention was more ambitious, as while this was not a film made on a huge budget what it did with its resources did generate some easy laughs, and not simply of the "I'm so baked right now" variety. This was basically one of the Into the Night strain of movies, yet where the eighties version of those would often feature fish out of water yuppie types, this time the horizons were broadened.
While some of the humour was laboured and trying too hard to be wacky, its subtle anti-racism message was far more deftly applied, as the Korean Harold and the Indian Kumar went some way to proving that comedy like this did not necessarily have to be the sole province of the whitest comedians around. If there are villiains it's their neighbours, the "extreme" gang who make trouble around the town and always seem to show up where Harold and Kumar least want them to, but are too anxious to actually stand up to them and their taunts. All that changes by the finale, where the boys get their wish and the burgers they've been looking for all evening.
White Castle did not pay to be endorsed by this movie, but were happy to be associated with it even with the off colour humour and pro-drugs theme. Really they represented, in an unpretentious fashion, the goal of the two leads in life, which could either be Harold plucking up the courage to talk to the attractive neighbour down the hall (Paula Garcés) or Kumar admitting that being a doctor is what he will be good at and embracing that destiny, but is mostly about satisfying their hunger as soon as possible. Easier said than done, what with a roaming cheetah, a possibly insane and boil-covered mechanic, and a rampant Neil Patrick Harris (as himself) providing just some of the obstacles, and if too much tended towards the self-consciously would-be outrageous, Cho and Penn were good company; there were as many good laughs here as you needed to judge their misadventures a success in its field. Music by David Kitay.
Aka: Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies for overseas audiences who didn't know what White Castle was.