'The Greatest Beer Run Ever' Review: Zac Efron Hitches A Ride To Vietnam In Peter Farrelly's Shallow Dramedy [TIFF] – The Playlist

Peter Farrelly’s “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” isn’t so much a bad movie — though it’s certainly that — as an inexplicable one, a comedy/drama set in the Vietnam War that somehow believes it’s saying anything that hasn’t been said a million times already about that conflict, and far more skillfully. Its script feels like it was written in 1972 as a Donald Sutherland vehicle, shelved because it was too edgy, then dusted off last year and shot as-is. 
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That’s not its origin, sadly (at least then, it’d be a good cinematic archaeology tale). In fact, it’s based on the true story of John “Chickie” Donahue (Zac Efron), a Merchant Marine who went to Vietnam in 1967 with a duffel bag full of beer, intending to deliver cans to guys from his Inwood neighborhood as a thank-you for their service. But first, Farrelly stages scenes of protest and counter-protest back home that make “Forrest Gump” seem comparatively nuanced; to call the picture’s politics simplistic is an understatement. 
Nevertheless, Chickie goes on his little mission; “Everybody’s doin’ somethin’,” he says. “I’m doin’ nothin’.” He has a comically easy time talking his commanding officer into a 72-hour leave from his ship, steps off the boat, and immediately starts finding the guys he’s looking for. He quickly discovers that his easy-breezy manner and civilian clothes mean military personnel will mistake him for CIA (uh huh) and that the more he denies it, the more they’ll believe it’s true.
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That’s one of the script’s two big crutches, a running joke that comes back around roughly six dozen ties. Farrelly and co-writers Brian Currie and Pete Jones (adapting the memoir Donohue wrote with Joanna Molloy) also apparently decided to fill some pages by having every single character comment on how crazy Chickie’s mission is, and, y’know what, we get it! We’re seeing a movie about it! Such head-shaking chuckles about crazy Chickie and his bag of beer take the place of any real stakes; we go in knowing that it’s a true story and that Chickie lived to tell the tale, so we never feel his life is in any significant danger.  
Efron is as charming as ever and even pulls a few laughs out of the meager screenplay. But he’s not up to its heavier moments (he’s expected to cry in one late scene, and damned if he doesn’t have to rub his eyes to make it happen). He also doesn’t seem to know the difference between a New York and New England accent and fluctuates between them wildly — though based on the supporting performances, Farrelly can’t distinguish them either. The acting is similarly all over the map; Chickie’s pals’ mug and bellow as broadly as the chorus in a high school production of “West Side Story,” and his family members are similarly cartoonish. Even Bill Murray can’t find any dimension for his paper-thin character. But then Russell Crowe wanders in, giving an honest-to-god convincing performance as a war correspondent, even when he’s stuck mouthing dire dialogue like “The people who run this war? They’re politicians. And they deal in the currency of lies.”
But ultimately, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” has the same fatal flaw as Farrelly’s previous film, the (inexplicably) Best Picture-winning “Green Book”: he’s dealing with serious subject matter but still using the distinctive and specific visual language of the broad comedies he made his name directing. As a result, when the serious beats arrive, they all seem like they’re out of a spoof movie; the Vietnam scenes here look like something out of a third, heretofore unknown “Hot Shots!” installment. As with “Green Book,” it’s not that there aren’t laughs, but the dramatic moments are so clumsily staged and played that they don’t land at all. We just end up with sad piano music tinkling as Efron’s baby blues mist over because he’s learning that (!) war is hell, and (!!) that it screws guys up, and (!!!) that we’re maybe doing some bad things over there. 
The concluding scenes could charitably be called corny, a bunch of big speeches to the knuckleheads back home about the lessons he learned, reiterating how toothless and unnecessary the entire enterprise is. It is not a giant revelation that the war in Vietnam was bad, nor that there was a divide in our country over it. About the highest compliment you can pay “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is that the soundtrack is well-curated, avoiding the obvious needle drops. If ever there were a movie that seems perpetually on the verge of playing “Fortunate Son,” it’s this one. [D+]
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Bill MurrayPeter FarrellyThe Greatest Beer Run EverTIFF 2022Toronto International Film FestivalZac Efron



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