"The Greatest Beer Run Ever" Review
Peter Farrelly, the newly claimed king of oversimplification of American history, has made his grand return from his fruitful Green Book campaign to bring us a, you guessed it, oversimplified take on American history.
Staying within the same period as Green Book, but shifting locations across the world, Farrelly’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever (which he was able to rope Apple TV+ into fully funding, who have has now completely abandoned with an unceremonious dump onto their streaming platform) is here to tell you that the Vietnam War was bad for everyone involved, America included. Cue the dramatic reveal music. Of course, I’m only half-kidding. But that ironic reaction is understandable (and one that many critics share) for a film that has such broadly low ambitions and often overplays the same beats across a slightly-bloated 126-minute runtime.
Fortunately for Farrelly, just as he had two Oscar-caliber performances from Viggo Mortensen and Maherhshala Ali to shield him from some of the flack within Green Book, he has a more-than-capable Zac Efron to deflect most of the negatives here. The High School Musical alum has been willing to step outside of his comfort zone in the past couple of years, handing his dashing good looks over to filmmakers that can use them to their film’s advantage. Both Joe Berligner and Harmony Korine were able to deliver a wild one-two punch in 2019 with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and The Beach Bum. The Greatest Beer Run Ever seems to be the culmination of that hard work, as he delivers an effortlessly comedic performance with tinges of tragedy when required.
Efron stars as John “Chickie'” Donahue in this wild true story. It’s 1967 and America is at war… again. But unlike every other war in our nation’s history, no one, including the patriotic Chickie, knows who we’re fighting for, or who we’re against. Many of his friends have already been killed, each one of them labeled as heroes for “dying for their country,” a sentiment that Chickie’s rebellious sister doesn’t share as she conducts protests within the community.
Since he doesn’t agree with protesting the war, Chickie (half-drunkenly) decides that the best way to show his support for our troops would be to go over to Vietnam and bring them a beer. Just like any friend who shoots their mouth a little too much, no one believes Chickie will go over there, which, in turn, makes him want to go even more as a way to prove that he’s not a big-mouth screw-up. So, he boards a vessel to complete, as the title would suggest, the greatest beer run ever.
Reteaming with his Green Book co-writer Brian Currie and Hall Pass co-writer Pete Jones, the trio finds many moments to showcase Chickie’s overoptimism about his odds of survival, which gets him labeled as “a guy too dumb to get killed.” The first hour exemplifies this quite well, with a few set pieces, such as one where Chickie fakes being a CIA agent or another time when he hides under some blankets to surprise his friend who just ran through a field of bullets to meet him. Efron’s enthusiasm is contagious, even if it often leads to moments where you question how much danger his mission is putting other people in.
Farrelly pivots away from the slapstick to a darker brand of comedy once we pass the hour mark, giving us an uneven morality tale of how war is hell. There are some odd musical choices for serious scenes, and just an overall sense of “been there, done that” with the messaging. Russell Crowe’s late integration as a wartime photographer offers an interesting buddy dynamic between him and Efron, but Farrelly dispatches him too quickly before any lasting impact can be felt.
Did critics put out the hit on Farrelly after he “stole” the Oscar for Best Picture from Alfonso Cuarón and Roma? That may be a minor part of the truth, but there’s also the fact that Farrelly has once again taken an interesting true story and accomplishes nothing more than turning it into a feel-good story about how obviously bad things were bad. There could be worse things in the world, such as watching Farrelly’s recent work of Dumb and Dumber To and Movie 43. There’s not enough beer to make me want to do that again.