The post The Greatest Beer Run Ever Is a Pretty Likeable Movie, and That’s a Huge Problem: Review appeared first on Consequence.
The Pitch: Peter Farrelly is back with his first film since Green Book, a biopic about an average white guy from New York in the 1960s who learned a lot about the world by stepping outside of his comfort zone in the American South, whilst simultaneously charming the more worldly people around him. His new one, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, is a little different: it’s a biopic about an average white guy from New York in the 1960s who learns a lot about the world by stepping outside of his comfort zone in the Vietnam War, whilst simultaneously charming the more worldly people around him.
This time, Zac Efron stars as Chickie Donahue, a shiftless merchant mariner who has a lot of friends serving in Vietnam. Chickie resents the cynical attitude the American media and youth culture have towards the war efforts and he gets it into his head to travel to Vietnam with a duffel bag full of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and hand-deliver them to his buddies to boost their morale. Unfortunately, once he’s there, he discovers the horrors of war cannot be healed with good cheer, and that getting home might be nearly impossible.
The Myopic Lens of Your Own Self-Actualization: The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a film about why the Vietnam War was bad. I don’t know who specifically needed to learn that the Vietnam War was bad, but if you somehow didn’t get the memo in the last 50 years, Peter Farrelly’s movie was apparently made just for you. It really seems to think the audience needs their hand held through that conversation. It’s bizarre.
The biggest problem with The Greatest Beer Run Ever is that Farrelly’s picture treats a horrifying war that ended the lives of over three million people as a backdrop for one shiftless layabout’s personal growth. Chickie watches frightening firefights, shocking war crimes, and the tragic deaths of people he’s grown to care about all happen firsthand. But by the end of the movie, all of that gets dropped in favor of a coda that assures that, thank goodness, Chickie learned a valuable lesson from it all.
Granted, this film is based on the true story of one man’s personal experience, so, of course, it centers on his personal experience. But a decision was made that this one tale should be told, and should be told in such a way that the actual violence and atrocities of the Vietnam War would feel like part of Chickie’s story, instead of the other way around.
Either you buy what the movie is selling and you start thinking Chickie’s tale is as important, or more so, than literally everything else happening around him (which is bad), or you know enough about history to find this movie’s focus completely misguided and its message largely unconvincing (which is also bad).
The “Forrest Gump” Effect: The other big problem with The Greatest Beer Run Ever is that the film takes great pains to make the most unpalatable aspects of the story — the bloodshed, the war crimes, the trauma — go down as smoothly as possible.
There’s a moment in this film where Chickie is about to catch a plane headed to the front with his bag of beers (we’ll get to those in a second). He’s told he can board as soon as they unload all the dead bodies. It’s a sobering moment that brings Chickie’s well-intentioned but naive plan into sharp relief, but instead of staying with Chickie as he watches those corpses get unloaded, the movie immediately cuts to the plane in mid-air with an upbeat nostalgic song on the soundtrack. All as if to say, “Don’t worry, audience, we won’t be putting you through that.”
The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Apple TV+)
The music in The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a collection of hit songs from the 1960s, not unlike the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump. That soundtrack was a massive bestseller that evoked nostalgia within the baby boomers in the audience, and it made the more troubling historical events of the film easier to revisit.
Farrelly’s film takes the same approach, collecting a gaggle of upbeat tunes and using them to soften every single blow in the movie, to the point that a song which scores a despicable war crime can return in a tender reunion scene later, with seemingly no meaningful connection between those two events. Those scenes are selling the song, the song isn’t selling the scenes. The music hurts the film.
Donohue: The Man Without Beer: Chickie spends most of The Greatest Beer Run Ever lugging a large duffel bag full of loose cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Just before he leaves for Vietnam, we watch him pack it full of several cases of beer. If you’ve ever lifted a 12 oz. can of any beverage you’ll know that while it doesn’t weigh a lot, it also doesn’t weigh nothing, and putting several dozen of them in a duffel bag will give that duffel bag some meaningful heft.
And yet, even though the whole movie is about Chickie carrying that weight halfway around the world, you wouldn’t know it from actually watching the film. The next shot after he loads up the duffel bag finds him halfhearted tossing it in the backseat of a car like it weighs next to nothing, and as if that wasn’t going to shake up those cans something furious. Chickie may be a healthy and relatively strong man, but at one point he wears that duffel bag full of beers like a hat because it’s raining, and that’s just hard to process. Have you ever worn a few dozen beers like a hat? (Don’t let that become a TikTok challenge — it’s not advisable.)
The entire reality of The Greatest Beer Run Ever comes crashing down repeatedly because the central conceit of the movie — simply lugging a whole bunch of beer around — never seems real. Imagine if you were watching Mad Max: Fury Road but the movie never convinced you that Furiosa was driving a real truck. Imagine if in The Lord of the Rings you were pretty sure they never had a real ring, and were probably toting around a gold-painted Cheerio. It would undermine the whole enterprise, wouldn’t it?
The Verdict: The Greatest Beer Run Ever is actually a pretty likable film, and that’s the whole problem. It undersells the point it’s making by making the horrors of war easy to consume, and while nobody expects every war film to be Apocalypse Now, we should probably expect more from them than Operation Dumbo Drop.
None of this is the fault of the cast: Efron brings as much heft to his role as possible, but it’s a movie about him coming to terms with his own overwhelming ignorance. So he has to play the part like he’s completely obtuse for most of the running time, and that just doesn’t give him much to work with. Russell Crowe has a satisfying supporting role as a reporter who begrudgingly comes to accept Chickie’s sincerity, but he’s there to teach Chickie valuable lessons, not have a character arc all to himself, so he’s also held back by the script.
Whatever this film’s intentions may have been, and perhaps they were wholly noble, one thing is abundantly clear: Smokey and the Bandit is still, and without much competition, cinema’s greatest beer run. And that movie managed to deliver a whole truckload of beer without doing any disservice to the Vietnam War.
Where to Watch: The Greatest Beer Run Ever is streaming now on Apple TV+.