I can't claim to be a particularly impassioned fan of the "Harold & Kumar" series so far.  I think it is a very unlikely franchise, and just seeing them make it to a third film is sort of admirable.  I was actually surprised by just how hard this film seems to be trying, and ultimately, that's what won me over.  You will definitely see better movies this year, but I doubt you'll see any that are as actively determined to entertain you as "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," and for that alone, I'd say check it out.

One thing I admire about the film is the way it doesn't even try for reality.  This is a silly, surreal movie universe where anything can happen, and as a result, it's hard to get offended by any of it, and it's equally hard to invest in any sense of stakes for the characters.  You know things are going to get insanely bad for Harold & Kumar over the course of a long frantic evening full of pot smoke and terrible luck, but you also know it'll all work out and their friendship will endure.  That's what the series is, and that's the formula screenwriters Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg follow once again.

Both Kal Penn and John Cho have gotten more and more confident and polished as performers over the years, and I think they both inhabit their roles in a way here that they never have before.  Maybe the repetition of the series has lent the characters some iconography, because here, they feel fully-realized as comic creations to me in a way that they weren't before this.  As frantic as the film is, they're both very relaxed and comfortable slipping right back into the world that these movies take place in.

This is a world with mutants and Santa Claus and where infants can do drugs without any sort of consequences.  It is a world of cartoon physics and stoner logic.  Things happen because they're funny, not because they're based in reality.  And as long as you go with that, there's a real charm to the non-stop lunacy.  Just as many jokes fall flat as work, but there are so many jokes to begin with that even landing 50% of them makes for a pretty enjoyable night at the theater.

And, yes, I would say you need to see this one theatrically.  The 3D in the film is preposterous and ridiculous and often very clever.  Whoever had the idea to have the characters blow clouds of pot smoke that roll out over the audience is a genius, because it's one of the funniest images I've seen in 3D so far.  It's also a natural fit for this series, and considering how many of the patrons of the film will no doubt smell when they sit down to see the movie, it'll make it feel even more interactive than normal.

A lot of familiar faces go by as Harold and Kumar are brought back together by a mysterious package that is delivered to the apartment they used to share together.  As the movie begins, the two of them aren't really on speaking terms anymore, and Kumar has become a bit of a shut-in, his relationship with Vanessa (Daneel Ackles) being a sort of on-again/off-again proposition.  Harold has become successful, and is well on his way to being the 1% that the 99% is upset about.  His stress has little to do with his job and much more to do with Carlos (Danny Trejo), the father of his wife Maria (Paula Garces), who has a real fetish for Christmas tradition, putting the pressure on Harold to get every detail of their family holiday right.

Yeah… like that's gonna happen.

Patton Oswalt as a weed-dealing mall Santa, Thomas Lennon as Harold's new self-imposed best friend, Amir Blumenfeld as Kumar's default replacement for Harold, and Elias Koteas as a truly deranged Eastern European gangster are just a few of the characters who fly by over the course of a night in which the guys are forced to deal with one another again in the quest for a Christmas tree to replace the one Kumar burned down with his magic Christmas joint, and they all score plenty of laughs.  The moment where the entire thing reaches the pinnacle of preposterousness, though, comes when Neil Patrick Harris shows up for his third time in the series, and this time out, it's like a mini-movie once he shows up.  It's so big and deranged and obscene that it's hard to believe it's happening, and that's the point.  Harris has got to be a lesson for any celebrity who ever completely buys into their own public image, and the way he plays both to and against expectation with every single line of dialogue is just amazing.  David Burtka, Neil's real-life partner, plays along, upping the self-reflexive quality of the joke to a new level, and I give them both credit for going as far as they do.

I don't think I'll spend any more time returning to this film than I have to the earlier entries in the series, and I still think they're uneven, but I can't deny the big laughs that I got from many of the film's more outrageous moments.  If you're already a fan you'll be plenty happy, and even if you're not, there is a confidence to the way Todd Strauss-Schulson directed it all that makes it fast and fun and painless.

"A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" opens in theaters tomorrow.