A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is merrily outrageous, over-the-top fun. It's a stoner movie, an into-the-night disaster comedy, a string of sex and race jokes that play like casually tossed-off anti-PC firecrackers, an absurdly touching tale of hard-won friendship and, wouldn't you know it, a 3-D movie that actually works. (The objects and/or substances that come hurling out at the audience include raw eggs, traffic-construction barrels, and great thick clouds of marijuana smoke.) Harold (John Cho), a Wall Street investment banker who is now a happily married bourgeois citizen, and Kumar (Kal Penn), still a mopy slacker who builds every day around his beloved bong, have now been around for long enough that, at one point, the two actually get chided for being ''old.'' The prospect of another Harold and Kumar excellent adventure sounds like a sequel that no one really needed, but the series, it turns out, isn't just running on fumes (except, of course, for the illegal kind). This third H&K movie may be the wittiest, and liveliest, one yet.
In one sequence, our heroes find themselves in the New York City apartment of an infamously brutal Russian mobster (Elias Koteas). As one of their gawky pals attempts to deflower the mobster's teenage daughter, cocaine dust goes flying into the air to the tune of Bing Crosby's ''White Christmas.'' A 3-year-old girl ends up high on the stuff, while Harold and Kumar, having consumed eggnog spiked with God only knows what, wind up in the middle of their very own hallucinated Claymation holiday-horror movie, complete with a giant monster snowman and a visual punchline that, were it not sculpted in clay, would probably have won the movie an NC-17. In just this one sequence, the film tweaks so many taboos, and does it with such no-big-deal aplomb, that the audience gets high too on the whole spirit of festive naughtiness.
Did I mention that A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is also a disarmingly spirited comedy of yuletide cheer? At this point, the whole genre of megaplex Christmas comedy (Fred Claus, Four Christmases, Jingle All the Way) is an eccentric concoction indeed: The more heartless the jokes, the more we're supposed to feel the toasty family-of-man spirit lurking on the other side of them. This one, directed by series newcomer Todd Strauss-Schulson, fuses misanthropy and sentimentality in hilariously off-kilter ways. It's a movie in which Santa Claus literally gets shot out of the sky, but that hardly means that the film doesn't believe in him. The tawdry/clever plot has Harold and Kumar scrambling from dusk till dawn to replace the perfect Douglas-fir Christmas tree that the two accidentally burned down (with a giant smoldering joint) in Harold's suburban home. If they don't find another Martha Stewart-worthy tree, then Harold is going to be persona non grata with his surly Hispanic father-in-law (a very droll Danny Trejo), who hates Koreans.
Harold and Kumar haven't seen each other for several years, and the movie is about their rediscovery of what their friendship means. For us, it's all about plugging into the attitude that has always bonded them not just the allegiance to stuff like White Castle and Wu-Tang, but the slightly hostile implacability, the absolute nonplussed cool in the face of whatever happens. They simply can't believe all the idiots and losers that life keeps dispatching their way. Not to mention the charismatic loonies. When they run into Neil Patrick Harris again (once more playing ''himself''), they need to hide out from that mobster's goons, and so they join the chorus line of a Christmas production number that Harris sings with a wink of high showmanship that gets the audience jazzed. And that's just the prelude to a perversely hilarious sequence in which Harris has a grand old time tying his sexual image in the media into farcical knots. In its shaggy, pleasure-bombed, '80s-meets-2011 way, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is a deft and generous comedy, with ingeniously interlocking gags and even the film's own mascot, a breakfast-making Wafflebot whose droid voice keeps saying funnier and funnier things. Who even knows where Harold and Kumar, those Everyman heroes for a post-white-boy America, can go from here, as a generation that's come of age along with them watches as they continue to do that deeply strange, stoned-logic thing called growing up. A