The Greatest Beer Run Ever Review: Peter Farrelly's Films Are Getting Dumb & Dumber [TIFF]

Sometimes, I worry that the age of social media will distort our collective memory, with conspiracy theories and "fake news" narratives twisting our sense of reality to the point where we can no longer recognize history. And after watching "The Greatest Beer Run Ever," I fear this has already happened.

"The Greatest Beer Run Ever," which premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, is a movie that dares to ask: was the Vietnam War ... a bad thing? Over a two-hour run-time, the film follows the lovable, simple-minded John "Chickie" Donohue (Zac Efron) as he travels to Vietnam to bring beers to the troops, hoping his friendly gesture will help boost morale. Chickie, like the rest of his neighborhood buddies, believes "their boys" are "saving the world," and that the journalists documenting the war and the protestors demonstrating for peace are all entitled jerks who don't appreciate freedom. But ho! When Chickie goes to a war zone, it turns out that being shot at and seeing villagers napalmed isn't so fun. Also, a bug crawls on his face and it's really gross! At least those soldiers got to drink some warm, sudsy ones.  

"The Greatest Beer Run Ever" is a dumb movie that revels in its own idiocy. It starts from a place of extreme ignorance that it couldn't possible recovery from; I understand that it's based on a true story and that in 1967, the real-life Chickie and his friends probably did think that America's involvement in the Vietnam war was heroic and just — but this is 2022. Everyone in the audience knows that's not the case (I hope). We've had half a century's worth of films depicting the horrors of that conflict — from "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now" to more darkly comedic films like "Full Metal Jacket" — heck, even "Tropic Thunder" touched on the topic. The "Rambo" films and to a lesser extent "Forrest Gump" showed the lasting trauma felt by the veterans who returned from Vietnam. It's a baffling choice to launch into a Vietnam movie without that self-awareness.  

A neat premise but not much else

The greatest sin "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" commits is failing to be funny. The movie's first half is painfully boring. Farrelly seems unsure how to get the story off the ground, and he spends far too much of the runtime setting up Chickie and his buddies back home. When we actually do get to Saigon, the film continues to plod along at a solemn pace, meandering in the story and lingering on bits that grow stale almost immediately. There are some laughs: Efron has a natural comedic timing that elevates the middling gags and jokes. The premise is cute, but the material itself just doesn't lend itself to this kind of story. The humor feels misplaced, and the drama has no weight to it because the attempts at comedy keep undercutting the severity of the situation. This is a perfect example of how not to do a comedy-drama. 

The "message" is pathetically inadequate and watered-down; the "bad" guys are the lying politicians and the CIA operatives, while the soldiers are all good guys just caught up in a bad situation. The Vietnamese are all fifth business to the white, male characters: we're not supposed to care about their homes, what the conflict is doing to the environment, or how many innocent women and children have been burned alive by napalm. The biggest eye-opener is when Chickie sees dead bodies in the street during the film's climax — but weirdly not a dozen scenes earlier when he walked by a plane unloading dozens of American corpses in body bags. This one of many examples where the needs of the plot dictates the character's actions rather than the character's motivations organically dictating his response to the world. In other words, it's bad writing. 

There's very little care put into the story in "The Greatest Beer Run Ever," and as a result, the character choices and dialogue feel forced. Far too much screen-time that's just "Chickie does a dumb thing." For a movie proudly based on a "true story," it rings false from start to finish.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10