1. I always find "shockingly offensive" moments in comedies funnier when I don't see them coming. When the naked man comes storming out of the house trying to beat up Miles in "Sideways," I laughed and gasped so loud I scared the person sitting next to me. When Vincent Vega shoots Marvin in the face in "Pulp Fiction," it's so out-of-nowhere that it's like a shot to the solar plexus ... at least until you burst into breathless laughter. When movies are based entirely around their "tasteless" moments, it's difficult for me to be taken aback the same way it's difficult to scare me when I know something's about to jump out of the dark. Being startled is part of the fun; being startled is the point.
2. So "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas" didn't shock or offend me all that much, not even when Santa Claus got shot in the face or when a baby got high on cocaine or when a main character gets his penis stuck to a frozen flagpole. (Though I did appreciate the holiday sentiment on that last one.) The film is so desperate to Go Farther that it might have required them to sacrifice a human being on screen to get much of a gasp out of me. That might turn the film into "A Serbian Film," though, and no one wants that. (God no.) Instead, the third "Harold and Kumar" must earn its Christmas stripes via the less glamorous, laborious practice of being funny. In this regard, it doesn't quite make it as far as you want it to, though it certainly has its moments. Perhaps I would have noticed more, had I not been distracted by the Claymation genitals.
3. John Cho and Kal Penn are back as the eponymous stoners, and it is to a credit to them that even though they both seem sort of over this, they're nevertheless as earnest and winning as always. (Cho, in particular, has real skill at seeming the one sane person in the room, even while hitting a massive bong. I think there's a future for him in Jason Bateman-type roles.) Now Harold is a big shot banker -- there's a surely accidental Occupy Wall Street joke in the first five minutes that's mercifully dropped; this film doesn't make the mistake of the second one and start thinking it's about something -- who is trying to impress his wife's family and also have a baby, while Kumar has impregnated his girlfriend but doesn't want to stop sitting on his couch and getting stoned all the time. In as much plot as you need, Santa sends Harold a magic joint, Kumar unwittingly burns down Harold's Christmas tree with it, and then they go out looking for a new one. In the first film, they went looking for White Castle. Here, they look for a Christmas tree. That feels like a rough equivalent.
4. A lot of this feels forced, particularly a subplot involving Harold's and Kumar's replacement buddies (Amir Blumenfeld and Thomas Lennon) hiding in a closet from a Russian gangster while a little girl races around high on cocaine. And the movie feels a little less "whatever" about pot-smoking than the first two films, particularly the first one; having become so well-known as a pot film franchise has turned weed into something of constant note, rather than just a fact of existence. Occasionally the movie's just a little too giggly about pot for my tastes; dudes, just smoke up, nobody cares anymore. (I also could have done without the metajokes about Kal Penn working for the White House and Blumfeld's character calling Harold "Sulu.") But the movie still has its fair share of belly laughs, many once again coming from Neil Patrick Harris as the fictionalized, drug-addled, oversexed heterosexual alpha male version of Neil Patrick Harris. The joke is that Fake Harris is just pretending to be gay in public to bag more girls in private, and Real Harris plays it to the hilt. The guy is so on fire right now I even liked him in "The Smurfs."
5. The movie also has some fun with 3D, including two lunatic scenes with a 3D cocaine blizzard and a 3D Danny Trejo doing ... well, something terrifying to a Christmas tree. Again, some of this works, and you'd be hard-pressed to come out of the film not having laughed on several occasions. It still feels a little tired, a little "let's sneak one more out of this before no one can stomach another one of these" to the whole enterprise. After all, even Harold and Kumar eventually have to grow up, which means fewer misadventures, more important destinations than the White Castle. I was glad to see them again, but it's probably time for them to go get their lives fully together now. Don't worry, boys: That doesn't mean you can't still smoke weed. Quite the opposite, actually.