Forget the mistletoe and the holly. If you want to make it a truly merry Christmas, grab that other plant known for spreading cheer — yes, you know the one — and plant yourself in front of the TV with an appropriate film. And by appropriate, we mean one that will suit both your mellow mood and this most wonderful time of the year. 

[Read Movie Matt’s other reviews for Carolina Cannabis News: “Reefer Madness” — yes, the 1930s propaganda flick — and “Hemp Road Trip.”]

[Note to parents: You probably want to keep your kids away from Harold and Kumar.]

Of course, the “Yuletide pot film” isn’t exactly the most prolific of sub-genres, with only a handful of titles coming to mind. Chief among them would be 2002’s “Friday After Next,” in which stoners Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps) have to contend with a crook who disguises himself in a Santa suit, and 2015’s “The Night Before,” in which three longtime friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie) encounter a talkative pot dealer (a hilarious Michael Shannon) who displays an unexpectedly angelic side. The best bet, however, is 2011’s “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,” the third and final film in the franchise starring John Cho and Kal Penn as the amiable potheads.

[Image: John Cho and Kal Penn as Harold and Kumar over Santa’s dead body. It’s no wonder this was their last film: They killed Santa!]

It’s not imperative to have seen the previous two pictures to enjoy this one — I mean, we’re not talking “The Godfather” or “Star Wars” or “The Matrix” intricacy here — but it’s helpful in terms of getting to know its protagonists.

The best of the trio, 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” retains its standing as a gross-out comedy with a difference, as it tosses some sharp social satire into the usual mix of horny guys, amiable dopeheads, repulsive rubes and homosexual bit players. The plot is lifted from the Cheech and Chong playbook, as cautious Harold (Cho) and caustic Kumar (Penn) spend a Friday night getting high and then deciding that their munchies can only be satisfied by the burgers and fries at White Castle. So they’re off on an all-night road trip, one which finds them coming into contact with not only a Bible-thumping hillbilly named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni) but also former “Doogie Howser” star Neil Patrick Harris, playing himself as a drug-addled party animal on the hunt for hookers.

[Image: Neil Patrick Harris, John Cho and Kal Penn and some unnamed lady elfs.]

The middle entry, 2008’s “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” isn’t nearly as piercing with its satiric jabs, as the boys get mistaken for terrorists and sent to Guantanamo Bay to enjoy a steady diet of “cock-meat sandwiches.” The bawdy gags aren’t particularly fresh, although James Adomian is amusing as George W. Bush, here painted as a congenial, simple-minded pothead who briefly hangs out with our heroes.

“Some people like the holidays,” Mall Santa cheerfully explains as he serves up such seasonal stashes as “Winter Wonder Weed” and “Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer.”

[Image: Patton Oswalt and Kal Penn]

Thankfully closer in spirit — and abundance of laughs — to “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” than “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” takes place several years after the second film, with Harold now married and living in the suburbs and Kumar still perpetually under the influence back in the former roommates’ old apartment. But the unexpected arrival of a mysterious package containing — what else? — a giant joint ends up bringing the estranged buddies back together again, as they embark on a series of madcap adventures involving the perfect Christmas tree, a waffle-making robot, Russian mobsters, and the return of Neil Patrick Harris as “Neil Patrick Harris,” the profane, drug-addled entertainer who, it’s revealed here, only pretends to be gay so he can nail female hotties (“I am gay! Gay for that p*ssy!”).

[Image: Danny Trejo and John Cho]

A film with far more hits than misses — the storyline involving the mobsters is underdeveloped, and a wild sequence that turns the guys into Claymation characters goes on too long — “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” (which originally played theaters in 3-D) again benefits from the likable performances by Cho and Penn, and it gets an added boost from the unexpected casting of “Machete” star Danny Trejo as Harold’s surly, Yuletide-loving father-in-law.

Yet the filmmakers arguably save the best for first. In a pre-credits sequence, Patton Oswalt appears as a mall Santa who takes time out from tending to the kiddies by selling Kumar some weed from the trunk of his car.

“Some people like the holidays,” Mall Santa cheerfully explains as he serves up such seasonal stashes as “Winter Wonder Weed” and “Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer.”

Matt Brunson

Matt Brunson

Film Critic

Longtime Charlotte-based movie critic.