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When filmmaker Peter Farrelly last attended the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018, his feel-good message movie Green Book would take home the festival’s People’s Choice award and go on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture.
It’s unlikely that lightning will be striking twice with his latest effort, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, which sees fit to address America’s involvement in the Vietnam War much in the same manner his previous film tackled the subject of race relations.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Inspired by the unlikely but true story of a working class New York Merchant Marine who boarded a ship bound for Saigon in 1967 with the sole intention of bringing his deployed buddies beer in order to lift their spirits, the new project, which arrives on Apple TV+ at the end of this month, admittedly holds some audience-pleasing potential. But while both the title and the set-up, taken from the book of the same name by John Donohue and J.T. Molloy, might suggest something more along the brightly satirical lines of the movies he used to make with his brother, Bobby, Farrelly’s loftier impulses work against the material. The result is a meandering, disjointed production that struggles throughout to find a satisfying tone.
As played by Zac Efron (sporting a ’70s porn star ‘stache), John “Chickie” Donahue is a true slacker of his era. He still lives at home with his parents and pacifist sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), sleeping late and staying up later pounding them back at Doc Fiddler’s, the local watering hole overseen by “The Colonel” (a serious Bill Murray), who contends that the graphic Vietnam war footage broadcast by TV networks is bad for American morale.
Wanting to do his bit for his pals’ morale, Chickie hops on a cargo ship with no plans other than to distribute the now toasty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon from his seemingly bottomless duffle bag, then simply turn around and head back home. He soon finds out that it’s a lot harder to get out of a war than it is to get into one, especially when his arrival happens to coincide with the onset of the Tet Offensive.
Anxious to find a way back to his ship, Chickie initially poses as a CIA agent to help facilitate his departure, only to witness a darker side of the conflict he was never meant to see. As he’s reminded by the gruff but philosophical Arthur (Russell Crowe), a war correspondent for Look Magazine, there are a lot of wars going on in Vietnam, but most important is the public relations one.
Although Crowe’s measured performance momentarily manages to deflate the air of self-importance that engulfs the film, Farrelly and co-script writers Brian Currie and Pete Jones keep on hammering home the Vietnam talking points as if there will be a test on it afterwards, and the didacticism keeps dragging down whatever energy the movie attempts to muster.
While Efron has proven himself in the past as an affable actor, his self-absorbed character requires someone with a greater dramatic heft or sharper comedic chops to make the audience want to keep rooting for him along his path to enlightenment. By the end of this needlessly drawn-out excursion, Chickie’s experience might have opened his eyes to some inconvenient truths, but hapless, heavy-lidded viewers might not be so fortunate.
Distributor: Apple TV+
Cast: Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, Bill Murray, Jake Picking, Kyle Allen, Archie Renaux
Production company: Skydance
Director: Peter Farrelly
Screenwriters: Peter Farrelly, Brian Currie, Pete Jones
Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Andrew Muscato, Jake Myers
Director of photography: Sean Porter
Production designer: Tim Galvin
Costume designer: Bao Tranchi
Editor: Patrick J. Don Vito
Music: David Palmer
Sales: Apple TV+
Rated R, 2 hours 6 minutes
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