Dir: Danny Leiner.USA 2004. 87 min.

There's something sweet, almost childlike about a filmthat equates freedom and the American dream with a fast-food hamburger. But inthe puerile stoner buddy comedy Harold& Kumar Go To White Castle, a sort of melting-pot After Hours for the multiplex set that will likely divide audiencesin the U.S. with its scatological and sexual shenanigans while lending credenceto foreign viewers that American pop culture truly does herald the decline ofWestern civilization, the pursuit of the iconic 'White Castle'hamburger by a pair of pot-addled minority types conceals a rancid underlyingmessage of paranoid intolerance disguised as a comic lampoon.

Like Cheech & Chong, Bill & Ted, Wayne & Garthand Beavis & Butthead before them, New Jersey chums Harold Lee (Cho) andKumar Patel (Penn) want nothing more than to escape their humdrum lives throughcontrolled substances and television. Harold, an uptight Asian-American,endures long hours as a junior-level investment banker whose white superiorsdelight in unloading their weekend work load on the earnest striver; the morerebellious Kumar, whose immigrant father wants him to follow in his footstepsas a surgeon, brazenly subverts a medical school interview by advertising hispreference for chasing female anatomy over higher education.

After convening at their crash pad (where a naked Kumar'sshown trimming his pubic hair, the first of a disconcerting onslaught ofanti-gay gags) the roommates waste no time in sparking up a joint beforesettling in for a night in front of the boob tube. But the munchies set in,sending Harold and Kumar on a surreal odyssey through New Jersey in search of amythical fast-food restaurant serving bite-size hamburgers called Sliders.

En route, the duo encounters a slew of oddballs, including arandy Asian-American student group and a pair of sorority sisters withcorrosive diarrhoea, both at Princeton University; a boil-encrusted tow-truckdriver and his horny redneck wife; a gang of marauding right-wing extreme-sportsenthusiasts; a feral raccoon; the drug-addled and horny television actor NeilPatrick Harris in a ludicrous cameo appearance, and some sadistic cops, eachconspiring to keep Harold and Kumar from attaining their culinary goal.

Director Danny Leiner, who cultivated a homoerotic vibe inthe buddy comedy Dude, Where's My Car',in tandem with scribes Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, (Scary Movie 3), resort to scenes oframpant homophobia that sit disturbingly alongside a slew of summer comediesrife with man-on-man panic including SoulPlane, Dodge Ball and White Chicks.Comic set-ups in Harold & Kumarget paid off with quick jolts of anti-gay hysteria that elicited the biggestlaughs: a finger belonging to a deranged old man in a hospital waiting roomtrails a bit too close to Kumar's wrist; a seemingly composed male nurse in anoperating theater erupts into effeminate prancing. A redneck Jesus freak(Christopher Meloni, in another tiresome cameo) emerges as a closet sex fiendwith a predilection for getting pleasured in the 'reach-aroundposition' by his male visitors. 'Eat my balls' is a typicalriposte hurled from one character to another.

Insipid, juvenile sight gags abound, including a dreamsequence featuring Kumar in the throes of passion with his newlywed - anenormous bag of marijuana. A CG-enhanced cougar, in a pot haze, ferries Haroldand Kumar through the forest as fugitives from justice, creating absurdistlowbrow farce redolent of frat-friendly Zoolanderand Old School, which have attainedcomic legend through repeated viewings on cable and DVD. Harold & Kumar seems destined for a similar trajectory. Manyjokes here won't translate overseas but given the success enjoyed by othersimilarly tasteless teen comedies, international prospects look reasonable.

What's good for the image of a real-life fast food chain -White Castle operates 387 outlets across the U.S., mostly in low incomeneighbourhoods, where an obesity crisis runs rampant; the enterprise hasgleefully backed the use of its restaurant in the film - is bad for just aboutevery conceivable racial and ethnic group on display in Harold & Kumar, including a pair of Jewish stoners who crackjokes about the Holocaust and a black man who's been incarcerated for beingwell endowed.

The aim here was to subvert stereotypes by serving upso-called minority heroes who succeed in attaining a truly ridiculous goal atthe expense of mostly white antagonists that parade across the screen likelumbering buffoons. But any movie that features a song on its soundtrack called'Let's Get Retarded' lackspolitical credibility as a mirror of our times. Nevertheless, one's firstinstinct upon enduring the execrable, surreptitiously hateful Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle isto question whether the terrorists have indeed won.

Prod cos: SenatorInternational, Kingsgate, Endgame Entertainment
Prods: Greg Shapiro, NathanKahane, Joe Drake, Carsten Lorenz, Hanno Huth, J. David Brewington, Jr., LukeRyan
Scr: Jon Hurwitz & HaydenSchlossberg
Cine: Bruce Douglas Johnson
Ed: Jeff Betancourt
Prod des: Steve Rosenzweig
Costumes: Alex Kavanagh
Music: David Kitay
Main cast: John Cho, Kal Penn,Paula Garcès, Neil Patrick Harris, David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas,Christopher Meloni, Ryan Reynolds, Fred Willard