Someone must have a serious penchant for White Castle.

That being said, I thought Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle would suck – suck hard. After all, wasn’t it directed by Danny Leiner, the brain behind the stinker, Dude, Where’s My Car? The previews to Harold & Kumar – a few nonsensical scenes with a cameo by Doogie Howser himself – didn’t hold much promise and only seemed to confirm my suspicions that this would be another typical stoner flick: mindless schtick coupled with gross-out moments and pounds of weed.

Harold & Kumar is hardly thought-provoking – let’s not confuse this cinematic overture with a breezy read through Pride and Prejudice – but Leiner’s road trip through the Garden State is a wild jaunt, a toilet-humor comedy filled with surprising twists and turns that offers serious laugh-out-loud value; these moments appear more often than in recent comic forays like Ben Stiller’s Dodgeball. Harold & Kumar is one of the best comedies in recent months.

Harold (John Cho), enjoys little satisfaction as a low-level investment banker, but finds solace in adoration for his gorgeous neighbor Maria; Kumar (Kal Penn) is a nonchalant, brilliant lifer who spends his days mooching off dad, craving his next bag of weed. Together, the pair decide one Friday night the perfect evening capper would be White Castle burgers. Realizing the nearest White Castle is in fact, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (a town which by the way, does NOT have a White Castle to my knowledge), the two hit the road for a late night snack.

Let the raunch begin.

So forgo the cellophane-thin plot and what’s left? A lot, actually. Suspending the idea for a minute that White Castle is actually worth trekking through most of New Jersey for at 11 p.m., you’re left with hilarious performances on one of the silliest road trips on record – but what a road trip it is. And taking that journey with quirky Cho and Penn is a raucous joyride.

The two make for an affable duo: unlike Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott in Dude, Where’s My Car, Cho and Penn don’t flog their characters to the point of revulsion, though when Kumar imagines married life with a huge bag of weed, the scene does approach comic lunacy – in a good way. Cho and Penn, in the most ridiculous of moments – and there are many in this self-proclaimed low-brow flick – maintain believability. Whether they’re hang-gliding, riding a cheetah, or feeling up a blonde bombshell, the two seem more like two college guys who never grew up rather than asylum escapees in dire need of Ritalin.

So can you feel their pain when they’re stuck in a bathroom stall between two English girls with super-sized bowel movements? Yes. Or when a mutant hick with boils the size of Kentucky invites them to play naughty? Definitely.

It’s hard to fault Leiner or screenwriters John Hurwitz or Hayden Schlossburg when they’ve made room for one of the best cameos in recent history (save maybe Ben Stiller in Anchorman). Props to Neil Patrick Harris for putting aside pride to play himself. Judging from Harold & Kumar, he may be horny, he may be irresponsible – not to mention a klepto -- but Harris apparently wants audiences to know he’s still got “it.?" After this turn, it’s hard to argue with the man. Harold & Kumar is bound to go down in the annals of comedies as “the flick with Doogie Howser.?"

Harold & Kumar sets out for side-splitting laughs and delivers. Chalk it up to competent performances and some purely bizarre – yet memorable – moments. If the flick does well, the ending begs for a sequel, though who knows where they’ll go from here after they’ve reached the Holy Grail.

What’s left, Church’s Chicken?

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is out May 30, 2004.

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