The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Directed by Peter Farrelly
Written by Peter Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones
Starring Zac Efron, Russell Crowe and Bill Murray
Classification R; 126 minutes
Streaming on Apple TV+ starting Sept. 30
Watching Peter Farrelly’s new dramedy The Greatest Beer Run Ever, I couldn’t help but wonder what Bobby Farrelly might be chugging back. To be the other Farrelly brother – the one who didn’t leapfrog from the broad juvenile comedy of There’s Something About Mary and Shallow Hal to the Oscar reception of Green Book – must be a decidedly surreal existence.
I have no reason to doubt that Bobby is thrilled for his sibling’s success – and Bobby isn’t hurting for work, either, with a new Farrelly Brothers-ish comedy with Woody Harrelson on the near horizon – but to sit on the har-har sidelines watching Peter make another bid for the prestige awards season must be akin to watching someone you love accept a diploma from Harvard while unaware that there’s a splotch of dried semen still hanging from their left ear.
I have a feeling, though, that Peter will be back joining Bobby in the gross-out trenches soon enough. While 2018′s Green Book isn’t exactly a masterpiece, it is a work of high art compared to The Greatest Beer Run Ever, a tonally off and exhaustively glib effort that starts off dumb, then gets dumber.
Based on the true story of John (Chickie) Donohue, a ne’er-do-well merchant seaman in 1967-era New York who decides to bring some made-in-the-USA beer and cheer to his friends stationed in Vietnam, the film uses the basic template of Green Book in the most ham-handed of fashions. Basically, if Green Book used a saintly Black pianist to teach a big-hearted bigot about the evils of racism, then The Greatest Beer Run Ever uses the entire Vietnam War to teach a big-hearted doofus about the evils of war.
As played by an extremely eager-to-please Zac Efron, Chickie comes across as a well-meaning idiot so obtuse that you cannot possibly take any of his actions half-seriously. A barfly with no real life prospects, Chickie is goaded into the beer-run stunt by his friends and the local crusty bartender (Bill Murray, doing a lot with a little). But once he arrives overseas, he is shocked – shocked! – about what the actual war entails.
While Farrelly keeps the action moving at an impressive clip, the film hinges on two rusty parts: a script filthy with talking points that would’ve felt stale in ‘67, and Efron’s performance, which works well enough until the actor is called upon to flip from wide-eyed fool to emotionally traumatized victim. (There is one crying scene toward the end that is acutely painful to watch, but not in the way that Farrelly intended.)
Hidden halfway through the production, though, is a much better movie starring Russell Crowe, who pops up too briefly as a combat photojournalist who shows Chickie the ins and outs of Saigon. Delivering a gruff, sturdy performance that hints at emotional depth, Crowe brings a level of real-deal drama and intrigue that is largely absent from Beer Run’s dregs. I’ll drink to that – and maybe Bobby will, too.