This is an advanced review out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where The Greatest Beer Run Ever made its world premiere. It will debut in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on Sept. 30, 2022.
Peter Farrelly follows up Green Book with the funny, rather simplistic, and ultimately forgettable The Greatest Beer Run Ever. Zac Efron does his best to give the film both a wacky SpongeBob sense of humor and a grounded, emotional anchor, but even his best efforts can’t save The Greatest Beer Run Ever from its own lazy plot and cinematography, or its questionable themes and ideals. Farrelly once again pulls from a dark chapter in American history and uses it to deliver a googly-eyed feel-good movie about how everything can be better if we could just find common ground. The result is grossly manipulative and leaves an aftertaste about as good as the warm beer the main character is delivering.
Farrelly knows how to make movies about idiots. From Dumb and Dumber to Me, Myself & Irene, he crafts lovable yet absolutely moronic characters you can’t help but root for. Then he made Green Book, an attempt to mix his kind of dumb humor with prestige Oscar-bait drama that aspired to more than just laughs, and despite a horrible script, it went on to win Best Picture. Now, the director returns with yet another movie that is supposedly about big, timely ideas, but is just oversimplifying a decades-old conflict and not really saying anything that’s not been said in the past 50 years while hailing itself as revolutionary.
It focuses on John “Chickie” Donohue (Efron), an aimless, lazy freeloader who spends his days avoiding paying his bar tab and talking about goals he’ll probably never accomplish — like becoming a cop or graduating high school. Though he doesn’t seem to care much about current news, he takes great offense to anyone badmouthing the war in Vietnam or the soldiers dying there. And yet, even as eight of the neighborhood kids have already died overseas, Chickie and his friends just spend their nights drinking merrily like they always do without a care in the world.
But when the WWII veteran bar owner (played by Bill Murray) complains about the news showing the horrors of Vietnam and how the kids overseas just need a bit of comfort from home, Chickie gets an idea. He finally has a way to make a contribution to the war effort… by traveling to Vietnam, walking into the front lines, and delivering beer to the kids from the neighborhood.
Without a doubt, the reason to see this movie is to experience Efron playing an absolute idiot. Thankfully, unlike Green Book, the script — co-written by Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Pete Jones, based on a book by Joanna Molloy and the real Chickie — makes Chickie the butt of the joke rather than have him laugh at someone else’s expense. He’s compelling to watch because he is a lovable fool. We’re talking Dumb and Dumber levels of idiot – SpongeBob Squarepants levels of stupid – the type of guy who cannot even fathom that American beer might not be impossible to find in Vietnam. And like the yellow, squared fry cook, Efron’s Chickie is not just stupid; he’s a charming optimist. He is a character who should be dead the second he steps foot in Vietnam, but as one soldier later notes, some people are just too stupid to die.
The film’s problems, however, start right at the beginning, where it frames Chickie’s quest as noble and heroic when in reality, it’s all incredibly selfish and self-centered. Farrelly seems to believe the gesture is enough to heal the country, and even the score is rousing and inspirational as Chickie makes the trip across Vietnam to meet his buddies. But whenever one of his friends tells him to go home and that his actions are no joke, the movie dismisses that as them simply being too afraid to appreciate the gesture.
Despite the script’s best efforts to show Chickie’s loss of innocence as he discovers that Vietnam may not be a valiant effort, but actual hell, it is all superficial and ridden with clichés, as well as plain and unimaginative visuals. The tone is that of triumph, of a film that thinks it’s saying something new while only reaching the conclusion of “we were wrong and Vietnam went pretty badly.” Unsurprisingly, the framing is completely on the American public’s view of the war – about the public relations war going on – without a single thought given to the effect of the war in Vietnam itself.
There is a lot of talk about the soldiers going through hell and the effects of guerilla warfare on morale, but zero interest in exploring the damage this invading force is having on the country. At most, The Greatest Beer Run Ever frames the Vietnamese as ungrateful that the American troops are present, with characters mentioning that civilians don’t want them there, but there is no mention of the death and suffering carried out by the American troops. Of course, there are Vietnamese characters – two to be precise – but the only one with a hint of importance to the plot and the barest of characterization is a comic relief cop whose purpose is … surprise! To make Chickie a better person.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever achieves neither the healing it aims to accomplish, nor the Oscar-bait drama it envisions, nor even the broader return to comedy for Farrelly that he seems to be hinting at.