Dude, where’s my slider?

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

John Cho and Kal Penn mug for laughs in <i>Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle</i>,<i> </i>this year’s funniest comedy—stoner or otherwise.

John Cho and Kal Penn mug for laughs in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,this year’s funniest comedy—stoner or otherwise.

Rated 4.0

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is a shamelessly lowbrow movie that attempts to resurrect the boorish stoner comedies of Cheech and Chong in their heyday. It’s vulgar, gross and tasteless, and I was shocked—shocked!—at how low it will stoop for cheap laughs.

OK, now that the serious-film-critic stuff is out of the way, let me fess up: I laughed harder and more often at Harold and Kumar than I have at any movie in a long time; the laughs-to-jokes ratio, I’d say, is at least 75 percent to 80 percent. It’s the funniest movie so far this year, and it’s hard to imagine that there’ll be a funnier one in the next six months. If you want to laugh loud and long, go see it. But for heaven’s sake, check your tender sensibilities at the door.

Our semi-slacker heroes are Harold Lee (John Cho) and his roommate Kumar (last name unknown, played by Kal Penn), both fresh out of college. Harold is Korean-American, a hardworking investment banker who is always being exploited and imposed upon by his co-workers; they slough their work off onto him, clearing their own weekends by ruining his. He has a forlorn crush on his neighbor Maria (Paula Garcés) and fantasizes about chatting her up in the elevator, but he never has the nerve.

The Indian-American Kumar, on the other hand, is nothing if not nervy. His doctor father wants him to go to med school, but he always sabotages his own chances. At one interview, the med-school dean (Fred Willard, one of many funny cameos in the movie) asks why he doesn’t want to be a doctor—after all, he got a perfect score on the entrance exam. “Yeah,” Kumar says, “but just because you’re hung like a horse doesn’t mean you have to do porn.”

That night, after toking up on a couple of horse-leg joints, the boys get the munchies, and—as often happens to people in their, ahem, frame of mind—not just any food will do. It has to be White Castle (the venerable hamburger chain that, regrettably, has yet to come west of the Mississippi), and it has to be now!

But it’s been several years since they visited their local White Castle, and the place is now a Burger Shack. The drive-through clerk (Anthony Anderson, another cameo) directs them to a White Castle halfway across New Jersey, and then they’re off.

From this point on, the script by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg sends our boys on one of the wildest goose chases you’re ever likely to see; it becomes a spiraling comedy of errors and adventures that grows more outlandish by the minute. The boys stop by Princeton to try to score some grass, and then, in fleeing from the campus police, they take refuge in a women’s bathroom, where they cower in one of the stalls while two coeds struggle with diarrhea on either side of them (are you grossed out yet?).

They encounter a hideously ugly redneck Jesus freak (Christopher Meloni) and his horny young wife (Malin Akerman). They pick up a hitchhiking Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself and being an awfully good sport); tripping on Ecstasy and looking for sex, Harris steals their car while they’re asking directions at a convenience store. They go for a ride on the back of a cheetah that has escaped from a local zoo (a bizarre little homage to 1938’s Bringing Up Baby). Kumar fantasizes about being married to a huge bag of marijuana. Harold has an animated daydream in which he finally hooks up with Maria. They steal an SUV and then a hang glider.

You get the idea. The pleasant surprise of the script is that underneath all the pot and potty jokes, it’s really quite well-constructed, ratcheting up the complications with a logic all its own and spacing its jokes evenly, building each loopy non sequitur expertly on the one before it. The laughs never dry up or peak too soon, and it all builds to a satisfying resolution, with just enough of a “serious” message to give it a nice little cherry on top.

The film is directed by Danny Leiner in a spirit of expert anarchy, with such wacky finesse that I was almost sorry I never got around to seeing his last movie, Dude, Where’s My Car?—but only almost. After all, let’s not go overboard.