The Greatest Beer Run Ever, out now on Apple TV+, appears to have missed the boat. Director Peter Farrelly’s grand statement about the Trump and Bush administrations hasn’t so much walked confidently into sight two years too late as it has been nudged forward by its director, like an underconfident child whose parents want his talents to be acknowledged and appreciated by the world. But Farrelly doesn’t seem to have realised that he’s late to the talent show; every filmmaker with something to say about the Trump and Bush years has already said it.
The filmmaker’s follow-up to his controversial Best Picture winner Green Book was awaited with cautious optimism by an industry convinced that its victory was a mistake. Few people, after all, supported the Academy’s decision to honour the already forgotten film over the crowd-pleasing Black Panther and the far more acclaimed (and accomplished) Roma. Director Spike Lee was said to be so upset with the whole thing, he turned his back to the stage as Farrelly and his team went up to receive their Oscars. Later, with a flute of champagne in his hand, he told reporters in the press room, “I thought I was courtside at the Garden and the ref made a bad call.”
The Greatest Beer Run Ever, for better or worse, is a tonally similar film to Green Book. Which is to say that the tone is all over the place. It combines the filmmaker’s newfound desire for legitimacy with his tendency to turn every moment, regardless of how serious it is, into screwball comedy.
Zac Efron stars as John ‘Chickie’ Donahue, a layabout merchant seaman who overcompensates for not being an active participant in the Vietnam War — like most of his childhood buddies — by coming up with the most preposterous plan. After his father makes the ‘Sharma ji ka beta argument’ with him one too many times, Chickie — with time to kill and guilt to tame — packs a duffel bag full of beer cans, schemes his way onto a freighter, and decides to deliver the alcohol to his deployed friends. Remarkably, The Greatest Beer Run Ever is based on a true story.
But what could have been a Forrest Gump-style epic about America is turned into an undisciplined Efron vehicle in which the knucklehead Chickie discovers the glories of a liberal lifestyle. In the film’s opening moments, Chickie physically drags his sister away from an anti-war protest, and later berates journalists — one of whom is played by Russell Crowe — for writing only demoralising stories about the conflict. How will the troops find the strength to carry on, he asks, and seems genuinely surprised when people tell him that the troops don’t have to fight in the first place. And on the frontlines of war, as he adventures across Vietnam from one military camp to another, he discovers the harsh truth.
Not that the film ever captures the gravity of the situation, ever. There are precisely two locals that Chickie meets on his travels more than once, and they are both problematically servile. One of them is a bartender who appears to be unfazed by the war, acutely aware of his country’s history of being invaded by those with belligerent foreign policies. And the other is a policeman who is in awe of America, and promises to look Chickie up if he ever visits New York.
It is almost as if the actors were contractually bound to perform like they’re in an outdated war comedy; everything is turned up to 11. For a while, it seems like it’s the 90s again, when the Farrelly brothers — like the Coens and the Wachowskis — were a team. And this got me thinking; had The Greatest Beer Run been released two decades ago, they’d have probably cast someone like Jack Black or Adam Sandler in the lead role, especially for the sort of tone that the film is trying to strike. In a sense, Efron is miscast in the role, which, don’t get me wrong, he is very good in. But Chickie needed to be more of an everyman, and not a chiselled heartthrob.
The film cuts corners not just thematically, but also visually. A lot of it feels manufactured, as if the sets were laid mere hours before the cameras began rolling. The green screen work in some shots is jarringly poor, although admittedly, some other shots — especially those involving a helicopter — look pretty good. But for a movie that spends a significant amount of time in 60s Vietnam, it never feels authentic to look at. This isn’t to say that The Greatest Beer Run Ever had to be grimmer to be better, but it needn’t have been an episode of MASH either.
“I’m not doing it for laughs,” Chickie says at one point in the movie, when people around him (justifiably) question the motives behind his adventure. But it seems like Farrelly is.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Director – Peter Farrelly
Cast – Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, Bill Murray
Rating – 2/5