11/04/2011 08:57 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2012

Movie Review: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Three is rarely the charm when it comes to sequels - hell, the second one is bad enough.

But I will admit to laughing in spite of myself at A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a movie that refuses to take itself seriously and still manages to find a few outrageous taboos to make fun of.

The formula for these films remains unchanged: One small misstep inevitably leads cautious, uptight Harold (John Cho) and his recklessly carefree pal Kumar (Kal Penn) from what seems like a simple errand into a series of increasingly outlandish adventures. This time out, the story elements include Ukrainian killer gangsters, homeboy Christmas tree salesmen, a toddler on drugs and, of course, Neil Patrick Harris.

The film was written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the original Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, now firmly ensconced in the pantheon of stoner comedies. They start from a point where, a few years after the adventures of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the boys are now estranged and living separate lives.

Kumar has broken up with Vanessa (Danneel Harris) and lives amid a clutter of White Castle wrappers in his old apartment in Hoboken, N.J. Not that he's unhappy; he's just scored some primo bud from a mall Santa (whose strains include "It's a Weed-erful Life") and is resisting the pleas of new pal Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) to go out to a party, saying, "I can't. I've got to stay here and smoke this weed - or I won't get high." How can you argue with that logic?

Harold, meanwhile, has married sweetheart Maria (Paula Garces) and moved to the suburbs, where his house looks like a strong contender for the local Christmas decorating contest. But his intimidating father-in-law (Danny Trejo) tosses out Harold's faux Christmas tree as unsuitable. He replaces it with a personally grown-and-harvested 12-foot Douglas fir, then leaves for midnight Mass, having wrung a promise from Harold to have it decorated before they get back.

When a package for Harold arrives on Kumar's doorstep, he gets Adrian to take him to Harold's house - then accidentally burns down the special Christmas tree. Harold throws him out, then teams up with his new pal, Todd (Thomas Lennon), who has tracked down a suitable replacement tree, even though it's Christmas eve.

The plot complications multiply from there, with all four friends ending up at a party in Manhattan, where Adrian has arranged via an Internet chat to hook up with a virgin, who turns out to be the daughter of New York's most feared Russian mobster (Elias Koteas). The story gets increasingly surreal, with H&K winding up as Claymation characters, as background dancers for a Neil Patrick Harris holiday special and, for a finale, accidentally blowing Santa out of the sky with a sawed-off shotgun.

Coherent? Of course not. This is still a stoner comedy, one in 3D, no less. And while I continue to object to 3D as a waste of time and money, I have to give it up to these filmmakers, who poke fun at the 3D itself, only to turn around and use it with more imagination and wit than any other film so far.

It's as if the whole movie should be narrated by that guy who does that "Honey badger doesn't give a shit" piece; these guys really don't care about the niceties. They're just in it for the laughs - and if that means having a baby ingest pot and cocaine for laughs, so be it. If the outrageousness of that last idea doesn't make you laugh, you won't like the rest of this, either.

The film's funniest bit is the Neil Patrick Harris sequence, a short interlude with more laughs per second than the rest of the film combined. Harris jokes about the fact that he's an out gay man, playing it as a scam he uses to get over on unsuspecting women. He's hilariously self-aware, right down to his parting line to our heroes: "See you in the fourth one."

Every time it feels as though the law of diminishing returns is about to catch up with this movie, the writers pull another wild bit out of their bag of tricks. Some of them work; some of them don't. If their batting average isn't as high as it was in the first two, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is still a lot funnier than most of the other comedies of the past year. And that's no small thing. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

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