Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies Review

Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies is the latest film from director Danny Leiner. Connoisseurs of the teen movie (if such people exists) will no doubt be aware that he was the man responsible for Dude, Where’s My Car? and in many ways this latest effort simply picks up where that one left off. Both are intentionally stupid buddy movies in which the lead pair embark on some ridiculously convoluted journey whilst attempting a seemingly basic task. In the first instance it was trying to find a car, in this case it’s trying to get to fast food emporium White Castle (the film’s U.S. title was Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, one that clearly doesn’t travel well) to insatiate their titular “munchies”. Of course, such aims are ultimately facile, however, as both films are more concerned with the bits in between and the juvenile humour they produce.

Harold & Kumar does have one major point of differentiation, however, and that’s in its casting of two Asian performers – John Cho and Kal Penn – in the lead roles as opposed to a pair of white actors. Indeed, it is solely this aspect which makes Harold & Kumar stand out from the densely populated world of teen movies (a world in which both Cho and Penn are comparable veterans, albeit in supporting roles) as it’s questionable as to whether it would have made any impact whatsoever had events been otherwise.

Essentially this is nothing more than standard teen comedy material and Leiner hasn’t improved as a director in the time since Dude, Where’s My Car?. He’s still incredibly indulgent towards his players and this lack of discipline shows throughout. The narrative is naturally over-complicated – it would be an entirely different film, after all, were this not the case – but in Leiner’s hands it becomes nothing more than an episodic ramble. The problem is that the set-up gives Harold & Kumar license to pretty much go anywhere – from the absurd to the ridiculous – yet it always turns to the obvious as opposed to the inventive. Compare the film to Paul Brickman’s Risky Business, for example, which also traded on a “one damned thing after another” plotline, and it’s clear to see just how hackneyed Leiner’s effort is. Even John Hughes’ Weird Science, though I’m not great fan, took on the device with an infectious chutzpah. Yet here it’s merely one cheap gag after another, one tired comic stereotype after another, one indulgent cameo after another, as opposed to any sense of imagination.

As such any entertainment is likely to be generated from the central performances (everyone else is too one-note and underwritten to make an impact, though Neil Patrick Harris has a fair stab whilst playing “himself”) and it’s true that both Cho and Penn prove amiable enough whilst sidestepping any overt referencing to their ethnicity. Yet whilst they manage to avoid making a “worthy” gross-out teen comedy, they’re also in a position where they can’t do enough to save it from being over-familiar, formulaic and, frankly, more than a little dull.

The Disc

A new release from a major studio, Harold & Kumar comes to Region 2 DVD looking fine if not spectacular. The film is presented anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1 and never demonstrates any overt technical flaws (it’s certainly a clean enough print), yet it lacks the sheen and crystal clear clarity that should perhaps be expected from such a recent effort. Likewise, the DD5.1 mix is technically fine, but once again stops short of the spectacular. However, in this case this may be result of the films comparative low budget as opposed to any flaw in the disc’s manufacture. That said, in both cases the film is never less than watchable and to the less discerning eye there should be no complaints.

Indeed, it would appear that the focus of MGM’s attentions in putting this disc together would be with the extras. As well as numerous featurettes and deleted scenes/outtakes we also get a staggering three commentaries. The first allows us to listen in on director Leiner and the two leads, yet proves too in-jokey for its own good and more than a little dull – indeed, the level of insight amounts to comments along the lines of “great sequence” or “this is my favourite shot”.

More intriguing is the track recorded by Dan Bochart, one of the supporting players. A genuine oddity, this piece sees the first timer relate his experiences as “Extreme Sports Dude #1” as only he can – complete with digressions, non-sequitors and strange, rambling anecdotes. It’s perhaps a little too one-note to survive a single listen (perhaps he could done with a companion in the recording booth), but still proves a great deal more engaging than the first commentary.

The third sees the booth occupied by the two writers and the real Harold who inspired the tale. Far drier than the previous two offerings, the pair at least offer some kind of analysis of their material and as such makes for a likeable listen. Be warned, however, that they do mention the prospect/promise of a sequel which makes them just a tad less agreeable.

Of these three commentaries, it is the tone of the first which proves the basis for the remaining extras. The deleted scenes and outtakes are mostly ephemeral, though we do get to see Luis Guzman in a brief cameo that never made the final cut. Likewise, the various featurettes aren’t really deserving of our attention, certainly not beyond an initial viewing. ‘The Art of the Fart’ is a mockumentary look at recording the ultimate diarrhoea sounds; ‘The Backseat Interview’ chats to the two leads, but once again tries too hard to be funny and ends up doing more than annoy the viewer; ‘Drive-Thru Bites’ assembles interviews with all of the major players who duly provide the standard EPK nonsense; and ‘A Trip to the Land of Burgers’ – the most interesting of the four – looks at the computer generated dream sequence and how it was influenced by the kind of short, experimental pieces that float around the internet.

Unlike the main feature, Harold & Kumar’s extras all come without optional subtitles.

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