There is a wonderful quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that proclaims God made beer because He wants us to be happy. If that axiom is gospel, then John “Chickie” Donohue is a high priest. In The Greatest Beer Run Ever, Chickie, while imbibing on this holy ambrosia, decides to deliver warm Pabst Blue Ribbon to his buddies from New York’s Inwood neighborhood stationed in Vietnam. Like the credited Franklin quote, these exploits are also mostly true and mostly enjoyable.
Title: The Greatest Beer Run Ever (2022) Director: Peter Farrelly Writers: Brian Hayes Currie // Peter Farrelly // Pete Jones Studio: Skydance Media // Apple TV+ IMDb Plot: A man's story of leaving New York in 1967 to bring beer to his childhood buddies in the Army while they are fighting in Vietnam. Joe Says: The Greatest Beer Run Ever is an enjoyable road trip. Totally hip and light until it falls into a crevice of tonal uncertainty. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Or simply a good movie about warm beer?
Zac Efron plays Chickie Donohue. Chick is a well-meaning, wide-eyed, bro. He has plans a plenty but mostly wants to drink beer and sleep late. When his lighthearted decision is made known to the neighborhood, one that is suffering from way too many boys returning in body bags, he puts thoughts to action and heads to the jungle. Upon making his first delivery, Chickie, with his mustachioed charm, is mistaken as a CIA agent. This little gaff affords him free-range access and he decides to go with the joke, a plot device that quickly outlives its convenience but one that writer/director Peter Farrelly nevertheless lengthens to the point of tediousness.
Peter Farrelly, coming off his Oscar-winning Green Book, delivers yet another road movie that is heavy with political poignancy. Similar to the career path of Adam McKay, Farrelly has moved on from the raunchy slapsticks of the past to more mature presentations full of obvious themes, such as showcasing yet again that the actions of an honest, everyday man trying to do the right thing has a grander impact on society as a whole. And maybe he’s right. Or maybe he’s trying to sell it all to the younger generations.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever becomes such an explanation as Chick witnesses the Top 10 horrors of the Vietnam War – all in three days: the hopelessness of the grunts on the ground fighting a PR campaign; the terrors of CIA torture; the ravaging effects of napalm bombing; devastation of the Tet offensive. Chick is a happy guy who makes friends along the way – and hey, the warm beer helps. Yet the tonal shift between Chickie’s goodwill tour and the war all around him is too uneven. The crevice between Beer Run being a friendly comedy and fish-out-of-water drama becomes unwieldy as the finer points of the script lapse into a liberal-slanted history lesson.
Efron runs the show and proves, perhaps for the first time, that he has the charisma to be a leading man. Bill Murray has quick quips as a jaded bartender. Russell Crowe’s girth plays an equally-jaded yet fully-committed photojournalist. Efron’s friends and the Army grunts are warmly played by a host of actors, all who have that IMDb-searchable “I’ve seen this dude before” face. Beer Run is hip and light until it trips over the heaviness of its own footing in trying to keep pace with the similar path Barry Levinson set in Good Morning, Vietnam. Although, Farrelly does shy away from the CCR and Rolling Stones standards of the era opting for more unique record spins. Even when the plot becomes exasperatingly transparent, Efron’s Chick remains a likable character who does not stray from his set-upon character arc. There is a wink in his eye that makes you want to like the guy. And to see him succeed. And to maybe even share a beer.