In the modern marijuana comedy pantheon, Harold and Kumar are firing up more consistent comedy than Method Man and Redman.

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is a plainspoken title, and the movie is the same way. It tries to break down the comedic genre barrier between druggie hijinks and gross-out sight gags. Most of the movie is intensely juvenile bits that are thankfully more hit than miss.

But what keeps the movie respectable is Harold and Kumar’s awareness of and battles against the stereotypes they face, and their resultant pride. The script goes to an acceptable length to make the duo more than the idiotic, giggling stoners we’d usually see. By avoiding attachment of usual comedic shorthand to either character (through their drug use or ethnicity), the movie is better off.

Harold (John Cho) is a timid, overworked investment analyst, burdened by his credit-stealing superiors and flustered in attempts to woo a girl in his building. Kumar (Kal Penn), is an outgoing, underachieving wiseacre who thinks nothing of discussing drugs at a medical-school interview.

Seeking a meal like none they’ve ever had after getting high one night, Harold and Kumar are entranced by the power of the “slider” when they see a White Castle commercial. Their simple quest spins wildly out of control to involve a boil-faced mechanic nicknamed Freak Show (the only truly fizzling bit), a possibly rabid raccoon, a buffoonish racist cop and Neil Patrick Harris. That Neil Patrick Harris.

Harold and Kumar was directed by Danny Leiner, who also did the stupidly agreeable Dude, Where’s My Car? That movie gets a passing reference here and, admittedly, Harold and Kumar takes much of its inspiration from past comedies involving weird journeys (Adventures in Babysitting, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and two slight swipes from Tommy Boy).

But the shake-your-head absurdity to which it stretches these premises is what makes it work. Not many of those situations can be printed in this paper, but Kumar envisions a fantasy life where he’s married to a bag of marijuana with legs, and let’s just say Harris is real eager to assassinate Doogie’s character.

At the center of it all are Cho and Penn, showing formidable leading-men chemistry after supporting turns in the American Pie films and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (sent up in the film’s trailers as “that Asian guy from American Pie and that Indian guy from Van Wilder“).

Cho gives Harold, ever at the ready with his laptop bag, an affable nerdiness that would make him fit right in with the lovable losers of Lambda Lambda Lambda. And Penn’s mellowed-out voice betrays the wild-eyed charm that fuels his quest for, well, food and more drugs.

Yet another example of 2004’s fine comedy crop, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle captures perfectly that ridiculously alpha-male quest for a mythic, fill-your-stomach meal. It’s also funny enough that no one will leave with the comedic munchies when it’s finished.