There are many things about this film which put it in that bottom-tier of movies frequented by teenage boys with brain damage, chemically-induced or otherwise. There is a raccoon puppet that spits blood. There is puss. There is the obligatory scatological gross-out (although done in a frighteningly new way) and naked girls who serve no other function than to be topless. There is lots of pot and a computer animated cheetah and too many over-the-top yet stupid plot devices to count.
What saves this movie, ironically, is the performance (or perhaps just presence) of John Cho, whose most memorable scene to date was pissing all over Stiffler in American Pie 2. I remember watching that movie, liking “that Asian guy at the party” a lot, and wishing there were more people like him (like him as in Asian or as in likable, I’m not sure) in lead roles. This movie takes that sentiment to the extreme without sacrificing any of the adolescent comedy we’ve come to expect from American comedies. We’ve got Koreans, Indians, Jews, and Latinas all over the place, with several idiotic and villainized white guys. This isn’t to say the movie treads delicately over questions of race; instead, it drives a large car with a broken muffler right through them. What makes this palatable is the fact that the characters, not just the actors, are fully aware of the stereotypes they’re playing to. Harold knows he’s considered a “Twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Kumar knows that despite the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen as yet another Indian doctor, he’s got a gift for it and would probably enjoy it. The fact that the scene where he demonstrates this gift makes no sense whatsoever doesn’t do too much to lessen that.
Making the Asian guys the main characters and both using and disabusing us of those stereotypes is what saves this movie. “Saves,” of course, must be understood in a fairly liberal fashion. It is still, ultimately, a stupid movie about two overgrown boys with the munchies who spend all night trying to get crappy hamburgers (they don’t, by the way, ever address Kumar’s attitudes towards eating beef, although the actor requested vegetarian burgers). But if you want to spend a fun evening in your living room with some teen-movie-oriented friends and some popcorn, it’s sufficient.