After four years, director Peter Farrelly returns to the big screen for the first time since winning the Best Picture Oscar for 2018’s “Green Book”. While it might not have been Best Picture material (whatever that even means), “Green Book” was an earnest, big-hearted crowdpleaser that infuriated many who took the film (and awards shows in general) too seriously. It had its flaws, but it also had its charm.
Farrelly’s follow-up, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” features some of the same ticks that both helped and hurt “Green Book”. It’s sincere, mainstream, feel-good entertainment. But it also keeps so much on the surface, rarely (if ever) digging into the themes it introduces. The movie has a good message, several of them in fact. But the screenplay (co-written by Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Pete Jones) bluntly conveys them rather than explore them which is sure to push away those looking for something deeper.
Based on an inconceivable true account, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” tells the story of John “Chickie” Donohue (played by a mustachioed Zac Efron, packing his signature goofiness and charm). Set in 1967, Chickie Donohue is a thick-headed merchant marine who still lives with his parents in Inwood, a tight-knit neighborhood in northern Manhattan.
While many local boys are off fighting in Vietnam, Chickie and his gaggle of drinking buddies spend most of their time hanging out at a bar owned and ran by the Colonel (a fantastic Bill Murray). Collectively, the group sits around declaring their unwavering support of the war even though they can’t really articulate what America is fighting for (certainly it’s something to do with those dang “Commies”). But with eight kids from their neighborhood already killed in action and a ninth just declared MIA, their blind allegiance is a tough sell.
On the other side is Chickie’s sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) who’s heavily involved in war protests which he believes dishonors the troops. So Chickie and his pals from the pub hatch a wild-haired idea – one rooted in mind-boggling naivete. Wouldn’t it be great if someone from back home went to Vietnam and surprised the neighborhood boys still fighting with an ice-cold beer? What better way (in their minds) to support the troops? And who better to carry out such a cockamamie plan than Chickie?
While Chickie’s appreciation for the troops is sincere, he’s just as much about showing he’s not a flake. None of his friends or his family expect he’ll REALLY go over to Vietnam. After all, he has a reputation for not going through with his ideas. Convicted over his inaction and determined to prove that everyone’s wrong about him, Chickie stuffs a bottomless duffel bag with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hops a cargo ship bound for Vietnam. Two months and 10,000 nautical miles later he arrives in Vietnam and begins his improbable beer run across a war-torn country.
After firmly establishing Chickie’s ignorance of the world around him, Farrelly spends the rest of the film opening the eyes of our well-meaning yet gullible dope. Much of what he learns comes from the assortment of people he encounters. There’s Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe), a cynical but realistic war correspondent for Look Magazine. There’s “Oklahoma” (Kevin K. Tran), a local traffic cop he befriends in Saigon. And there’s the hysterical Lieutenant Habershaw (Matt Cook) who’s convinced Chickie is an undercover CIA agent.
But Chickie’s biggest reality checks comes through his unexpected face-to-faces with war itself. Such as when he dupes his way to the front-line to see his buddy Duggan (Jake Picking). Or when he gets caught up in the Tet Offensive. These scenes stretch the bounds of plausibility, yet they offer several sobering moments for Chickie and us. It all comes down to how much you buy into both Chickie and his outlandish odyssey. Efron’s multilayered performance is convincing even when the storytelling isn’t. And while it’s hard to buy some of the liberties Farrelly and company take, Efron ensures we never doubt Chickie or his motivations.
There’s one hilariously delivered line of dialogue that perfectly sums up Chickie’s crazy venture, “It may be idiotic”, says one character, “but it’s a noble gesture.” The movie agrees. Farrelly makes no attempt to hide the absurdity of Chickie’s idea or the crazy way he pulls it off. But it does recognize Chickie’s heart and his transformation from a naive and credulous lunkhead to an informed and contrite lunkhead. Ultimately that worked for me.
At times Farrelly’s pacing feels too rushed, and the tone-hopping can be distracting. Also, his attempt at connecting the fractured country then to our current climate of divisiveness doesn’t quite land. Still, I love the intent and the optimism behind its overarching message. Efron continues to grow on me as an actor, there are a few good laughs, and several of the more sobering moments have the desired emotional impact. It’s probably too much to juggle in one movie, but Farrelly keeps it all together and makes an utterly preposterous true story resonate in ways I wasn’t expecting. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” opens tomorrow (Sept. 30th) in select theaters and streams on Apple TV+.
Sounds like a good watch. I also like Efron’s acting of-late. In fact, he’s probably the only reason why I’d give this a go as it looks like a role he would do well with.
I really liked the trailer, but I had some concerns. This turns out to be a fun watch. it’s a little glossy and it really asks you to stretch your imagination. But I was surprised at how well it worked overall.
I’ll give it a bash!
It’s a hoot. A goofy movie, but pretty fun.
I don’t think I’m going to see it. I saw a bit of Green Book and it just left a bad taste in my mouth. Then again, I haven’t enjoyed anything by the Farrelly Brothers since Me, Myself, and Irene as it just looks another awards-pandering film. Fuck that.
It’s definitely not an awards-pandering movie. It’s a pretty oddball thing which may be why I enjoyed it. LOL
I’m waiting for Ted Lasso to come back before I bring Apple TV back into my life, but when I do I’ll probably watch this. No rush for now.
I completely understand. It’s not necessarily an immediate must-watch. I also understand as someone who is paying subscriptions for way too many streaming services.