Since I come from a country like India, a premise like the one we see here in ‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’ instantly catches my attention. The reason behind this statement is living in a country where more than half of the population is so drunk with the policies of the ones in power, that their patriotism has developed a kind of moronic obviousness that considers every action by the government as the ‘best decision ever.’ But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The movie in question doesn’t take place back here in India, but in New York, before hitching a ride right into the center of the Vietnam War.
Director Peter Farrelly returns after his surprising Oscar-winning Green Book, with a movie that is equally unsure of what tone it needs to focus on, or how to let its important message not get diluted by the absence of nuance. Zac Efron stars as Chickie Donohue; a 26-year-old Merchant Marine-turned lazy, good-for-nothing house rat – a dumb, far-right nationalist who would equate the U.S president to Jesus if he was allowed to.
While he sleeps his days off in his parent’s house, his nights are spent at the local bar run by The Colonel (Bill Murray), where he, along with his equally oblivious pals debate about what and how the war in Vietnam should be telecasted, and how they should also, occasionally report about the ‘positive’ side of war. They are so high on the U.S government’s propaganda supply, that in a sequence, Chickie even gets in a fight with his sister and her fellow protesters who are completely against the inhumane aspects of this War that is like a bag of lies used to distract the American citizens from the more pressing issues at hand.
Anyhow, in a bout of emotional drunkness, and due to the Colonel’s unquestionable boosting, Chickie makes a promise that he will do his bit to support the troops back in Vietnam. The least he could do, instead of doing ‘nothing’ would be to deliver the kids from his neighborhood fighting in the war, a taste of homegrown American beer. While no one takes his promise seriously, Chickie decides to do it anyway (mostly to prove everyone who thinks he is good-for-nothing wrong) and gets on on board a transport ship, thanks to his military credentials.
Like the feather-touch that Farrelly often uses, Chickie is in Saigon in no time, and due to his civilian persona, he is considered to be CIA and sent along to more difficult, war-drenched zones without question. He is able to reach some of his pals with ease as if he is casually walking into a 7-Eleven and ordering a pack of cigarettes. However, something inside him slowly starts to unravel when he sees the war up close, forming the crux of Farrelly’s more pretinent anti-war themes.
Now, if it was for me, I’d stretch the film out in an uneven fashion so that the tone that the director is going for, wouldn’t hurt it so much. Instead, Farrelly makes the same mistake that he made in Green Book. His narrative is so glib and full of ‘being positive’ that it forgets that it is here to truly make us understand the trauma and chaos that War actually brings. But that’s not the only one of its faults. From the onset, the film feels more performative than grounded. Actors spit out dialogues as if they are reading off the script or off each other, making the more interesting and important sequences bite the dust in no time.
It also doesn’t help that the movie is incredibly repetitive. The narrative is laid bare as a bunch of co-joint scenes that are all about the protagonist arriving somewhere, or leaving from one place to another. In between these sequences, he meets his friends and other characters like Russell Crowe’s Coates, but none of them sans Coates feel like they really belong in a motion picture.
Efron is really undervalued as a performer, and I personally feel he can do well if offered metier roles, but sadly The Greatest Beer Run Ever is not going to be that film. I mean, the Efron charm is still intact, but when it comes to the more emotionally taxing sequences, he falters; he falters hard – mostly due to the writer’s inauthentic writing of undercutting everything with a lighter touch. The only time the movie actually shines is the 15-odd minutes where Crowe and Efron’s characters are trying to navigate the streets of a war-ravaged city, other than that, even Veterans like Bill Murray are unable to light up the screen.
Overall, ‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’ presents a pretty shallow story that is further hampered by a lackluster execution. Making its more important themes feel like ceiling-high planters that Peter Farrelly is unable to water.