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The Greatest Beer Run Ever
★ | Hard to say which is worse, the beer or the war crimes.
You’ve got to hand it to Peter Farrelly, at least he’s consistent. His previous film, Green Book, was dumb. This one is dumber.
They’re both boomer fantasies about disgraceful periods of recent American history. But most of all, they’re stories of untold millions killed, and how that made one tangentially related white guy feel. After reducing the Jim Crow South and American segregation to a white thug explaining racism to a black man, Farrelly clearly felt that was just too subtle.
In The Greatest Beer Run Ever, he might as well be making a fantasy picture. The tall tale of John ‘Chick’ Donahue delivering beer to his buddies in Vietnam is already suspect. But in Farrelly’s hands, it turns into a reprehensible ode to American feelings as they stand over the corpses of civilians in an invaded country. It’s Iliad written in crayon.
Zac Efron is Donahue, a dopey proto-bro, who is dead sure that Vietnam isn’t just right, it’s divine destiny. Sure, every kid in the neighborhood returns home in a casket, but that’s the price you pay. Or they pay. You say tomato, I say tomato.
He’s egged on by the jingoist operator of a local dive (Bill Murray) and a grateful neighborhood of teary-eyed mothers. His sister, a staunch anti-war protester, is the lone voice of dissent. But since Farrelly is fundamentally incapable of taking a stand, he depicts the protesters as loopy caricatures. Idiots who just happened to be right. In the end, even as Chick seemingly understands the war is a crock of shit, Farrelly “both sides” the argument.
One night, in a drunken stupor, Chick promises to deliver beer to all the guys from the neighborhood. After all, it’s just Vietnam. It’s only a hop, skip, and a war crime away. What’s the worst that could happen? So, he goes and delivers the beer—the end.
No, really, that’s the movie. Whatever obstacles Chick faces are barely an inconvenience. In fact, Vietnam might as well not exist in this realm. It’s a backdrop. A facile rendering of an idea a tourist might have after seeing it on TV. Farrelly’s concept of the country is an insulting caricature, bereft of culture or identity. Even as Chick stumbles over corpses of women and children, the film barely registers them as anything but debris.
After all, this is a film where every war crime or atrocity turns back into how it makes Chick feel. A CIA operative throws a prisoner of war out of a helicopter, and Chick can’t help but complain that it scared him. Hundreds of civilians litter the streets in pools of blood, and Chick bemoans how this is God punishing him for delivering the beer.
Sure, there’s lip service to the idea that maybe America’s imperialist war wasn’t the kind of heroism they painted it as. But it comes from every character who the film can easily dismiss. Protesters talk with broad, “hey man, we’re fighting the power, man” accents. The photojournalist (Russel Crowe) is a weary opportunist, who the film argues needs the war because, for him, it's steady employment.
If only this was a satire. A pointed criticism of American exceptionalism as the delusion that it is. But that would require a good director. Or even a competent one. Instead, The Greatest Beer Run Ever is the kind of film that’s precisely what it appears to be. A tone-deaf, poorly-paced, and wildly offensive fantasy. Designed to placate audiences with a feel-good fairytale that Vietnam, despite everything, was rowdy fun.
Like the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that it shills, The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a watered-down, unwelcome assault on the senses, unfit for consumption by anyone with working tastebuds.