Film Review: The Greatest Beer Run Ever
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Director: Peter Farrelly
In Select Theaters and Streaming on AppleTV+ 09.30
When it comes to making films that aren’t afraid to tackle some serious, timely subject matter, Peter Farrelly is one director firmly in step with the times in which he lives. That being said, The Greatest Beer Run Ever is the latest reminder that Farrelly is still living in 1994.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever takes place in 1967, and stars Zac Efron (Gold) as John “Chickie” Donohue, a slacker in his late 20s who still lives with his parents when he’s not away with the Merchant Marines. Chickie is outraged by what he views as a lack of support being shown to the troops fighting in Vietnam, which include a number of his closest friends from his neighborhood in Inwood, New York. One night while drinking and pontificating in the local bar, Chickie pledges to go to Vietnam, using his connections as a Merchant Mariner, to bring each of his buddies a beer from back home as a gesture of thanks. Steeling up his courage, our hero gets himself and his cargo onto a boat and finds himself in a war zone, prepared to carry out an idiotic, dangerous and heartfelt mission to show his childhood buddies that somebody cares.
Farrelly’s last slight and simplistic pop drama, Green Book, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2019 and has become an industry pariah for doing so when it was up against groundbreaking modern classics BlackKklansman and Roma. The backlash resulted in enough people with egg on their faces that now the knives are out for The Greatest Beer Run Ever, and it’s hard not to feel that critics are over compensating a bit. Farrelly’s film is frequently dopey and pedestrian, and it has absolutely no fresh insights into a subject that has been covered by a number of truly great films. It’s not terrible, however, and once you get past the sluggish first act, The Greatest Beer Run Ever settles into being an unexceptional yet serviceable, lightweight satire on the futility of war and broadening one’s world view.
Efron has become quite dependable when it comes to giving his all to a performance, even if it’s frequently in sub par material. Chickie is a gruff manchild on a literal and personal journey, and Efron rises above the mediocrity of the screenplay to deliver a solid performance. Fairing even better is Russell Crowe as Arthur Coates, a war-weary journalist who butts heads with Chickie over the latter’s outspoken criticism of the media’s coverage of the war. The two men find enough common ground to earn each other’s respect, and the interplay between them is memorable. Bill Murray is terrific in a rather one-note role as the Colonel, the “damn the torpedoes” tunnel-visioned patriot bartender back home who encourages Chickie’s crazy scheme.
The strong cast help make the material play, though The Greatest Beer Run Ever never rises above being a movie that works well enough for what it’s trying to be and into something special. Whether it’s a movie that manages to make you think really depends upon the viewer: For those of us who already believe that war is more complicated than good guys and bad guys and the Stars and Stripes always being in the right, it’s hard not to want a boundary-pushing film that skewers the military industrial machine and the endless pattern of getting into unwinnable wars at unforgivable costs. The Greatest Beer Run Ever is more of a “baby steps” kind of movie, both for its director, whose background is in juvenile screwball comedy, and for sheltered audiences who aren’t ready for a film that doesn’t pull its punches.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever, like the beer cans that its protagonist carries, is a device to provide us with a moderate level of enjoyment, ready to be crushed and recycled into the next noncommittal, play-it-safe message movie that Hollywood has to offer. Still, if you have an affinity for the kind of stepping stone into broader-thinking, pop dramas of the ’90s, it’s worth a look. –Patrick Gibbs
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