Set in the summer of 1967, The Greatest Beer Run Ever tells the true story of John ‘Chickie’ Donohue (Zac Efron), a young New Yorker who loves his boys, his beer and his country. As the Vietnam war continues to escalate, Chickie and his friends at home are sitting in a bar talking about what they can do to support the troops. Then, in a drunken dare, his friends challenge him to go overseas and send their friends a message of support from home in the form of some American beer. Fearing that they’ll think him a failure, he accepts and sets out across the ocean, with his cargo in tow. What Chickie doesn’t anticipate, however, is the horrors of war that await him. Teaming with Coates (Russell Crowe), a photographer on a mission to tell the truth, Chickie soon realizes that the troops are going to need a lot more than a few brews to survive this tragedy.
Directed by Peter Farrelly, The Greatest Beer Run Ever may live up to its name, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t entirely worth the trip. Throughout the film, Farrelly goes out of his way to both support the troops and deny the war by highlighting the men who sacrifice their lives on behalf of the cause. (It’s worth noting that there are no women in the military on this Beer Run.) However, at the same time, Farrelly also wants to show the violence and horrors of war in ways to changes Chickie’s mind along the way.
And, in a lot of ways, the film is fairly successful.
Often funny but clear on its agenda, Farrelly tells his story with a certain sense of affection. As the optimistic and energetic Chickie, Efron does an admirable job with what he’s given. Boarding a boat and trekking out into the jungle, Chickie has the best of intentions and Farrelly makes sure that we understand his good-natured spirit. However, if there’s a problem to be had with this particular Beer Run, it lies the writing.. Having cut his teeth on R-rated comedies in the late 1990s, Farrelly moved into the realm of ‘serious’ filmmakers with 2018’s controversial but Oscar-winning Green Book.
But that may be the problem. Despite his growing skill behind the camera, Farrelly still leans into the humour as opposed to the horror. As a result, despite the opportunity to show the true damage of war, Farrelly pulls his punches when the film approaches difficult social issues. While violence and gore are not essential in a war film, Farrelly seems to hold back the worst aspects of war, allowing the audience to feel safer in the conversation than had it been left in the hands of another filmmaker. (In other words, there’s a little too much ‘good ole boys’ for a film that wants to change minds about the field of battle.) As a result, Beer Run is held back from becoming something truly memorable, despite its intriguing premise and some enjoyable performances.
To paraphrase Crowe’s Coates character, “Beer Run isn’t the best idea… but it isn’t the worst idea either.”
At a heart, Beer Run is actually a film about political propaganda. Living in New York, Chickie and his friends are adamant that his military pals are on the side of justice and right righteousness. As they battle against the communists, Chuckie believes that his friends are fighting a war that matters. As a result, he and his friends are angered by the ‘one-sided’ reports that the press highlight on television. They’ve been told by the government that what they’re doing is right, and they’re ready to fight for it themselves. (In fact, when he’s in Vietnam, Chickie even stands up to the members of the press, arguing that they show too much of the dark side of the ward and not enough of the positive to rally the folks at home.)
However, after his experiences on the field, Chickie’s eyes are opened and he begins to realize truth behind the lies that he has been fed. Watching the cruelty of American military tactics, his opinions begin to shift. All of a sudden, he understands the role of the press is to community the truth about what’s happening, even if it means exposing a government that seeks to save face. (Without giving any spoilers, one scene in a helicopter is a particularly powerful catalyst for his journey.) The darkness he sees is unlike anything that he could have imagined.
And it leaves a mark on his soul.
In this way, Farrelly salutes the bravery of the press and the military at the same time. While this serves to make the film more enjoyable, Farrelly’s inability to pick a side waters down his overall message. It’s here that Beer Run fails its mission. While it may be the story of one man’s amazing journey, Chickie also represents the hearts and minds of so many others who simply swallow media coverage without question. This film was an opportunity to challenge the propaganda that people are willing to digest, even though we live in a world of ‘fake truth’. So, unfortunately, while The Greatest Beer Run Ever may be worth a drink, I’m not quite ready to toast to its success.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever streams on Apple TV+ on Friday, September 30th, 2022.