The Greatest Beer Run Ever has good intentions and is technically competent, but its emotional core and comedic elements both ring too hollow to amount to much.
In some ways, Peter Farrelly’s Green Book winning Best Picture may not have been the best thing that could have happened to him. Because now, everyone who was so against his victory is probably going to be twice as critical towards his follow-up film. I personally love Green Book, even considering it one of my favorite new Christmas movies, so I was already on board with this new direction he’s taken in his career, with no cynical feelings towards him whatsoever, going into The Greatest Beer Run Ever. Which is why it’s immensely disappointing that I find it to be such a colossal step backwards for him in pretty much every way. The film is about the apparently true story of John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), a young man living in the times of the Vietnam War. Several of his friends have gone off to fight, leaving him to wonder what he can do to support a war that he believes to be completely ethically sound. So, he decides to travel all the way to Vietnam to personally deliver the troops American beer. But he gets caught up in the complications of the war and must fight to survive and make his way back home.
I don’t know the ins and outs of what really happened with the real Chickie Donohue, so as usual, I’m just going to be talking about the portrayal of these events within the confines of the film. And as far as they go, one of the biggest problems with The Greatest Beer Run Ever is unfortunately Chickie himself. His intentions of travelling so far through so much danger, just to bring his suffering friends beer and hope, are noble on paper, but they really don’t come across as such because Chickie doesn’t seem to realize just how big of a risk what he’s doing is. I know he’s supposed to learn from his ignorance in the end, but the degree to which he so casually brushes off the dangers of a mission like this not only makes him look a little dumb, but it takes away from how heroic his actions are supposed to be. It’s said that bravery is doing something despite being afraid, but I never believed that Chickie was ever afraid, so I can’t really consider him brave.
A lot of that unfortunately comes down to Efron’s performance. He’s perfectly serviceable in performing what’s given to him, but I almost never feel any passion from him, and therefore I feel none from the character. Chickie doesn’t act like what he’s doing means enough for him to actually have the drive to go through with it, which makes it harder to understand why he’s even going on this mission to begin with. When countless people react in bewilderment when he tells them his plan, I can’t help but completely agree with them, even though I’ve been following Chickie’s reasoning the entire time. I can’t help but see the act of just delivering beer to soldiers as the trivial, inconsequential good deed that many of the naysayers in the movie see it as. (I must reiterate that I’m talking about how the film portrays it, not the actual real-life deed itself.)
This problem is already bad enough on its own, but it’s made even worse when the second half of The Greatest Beer Run Ever turns it into what feels like a completely different film. Once the beer is successfully delivered and Chickie just needs to get back home, The Greatest Beer Run Ever turns into a perfectly functional but very standard war survival movie. Efron’s performance admittedly gets better when his character is forced to actually react seriously to something, but aside from a really well-shot attack on a city, nothing that he comes across has much weight behind it.
That’s partially because The Greatest Beer Run Ever has a hard time balancing the more lighthearted, almost comedic tone of its first half with its more serious second half. There’s major inciting incident that opens Chickie’s eyes to the crooked nature of U.S. operations in this war, but it plays out with a light pop-rock song that doesn’t fit in the slightest. If the film made a hard, immediate shift into a much darker, more intense tone at this point, I think that could have worked in emphasizing what a wake-up call Chickie’s getting. (Though that would again have required his setup to be better.) But the film can’t really commit all the way to that darker tone, so we’re stuck with an unexciting final stretch. This is topped off with Chickie realizing the gray area of the Vietnam War and the horrors of war in general, but it’s done as simplistically as possible. It’s absolutely nothing we haven’t seen done better in countless other stories, and even his big emotional breakdown towards the end feels standard and obligatory.
What Peter Farrelly did so well with Green Book is give us two engaging lead characters with stellar, charismatic performances that make us want to follow them, and put them in a situation that warrants being more lighthearted at first before transitioning into heavier territory. Sure, it doesn’t say anything new either when it comes to racial dynamics or anything like that, but it knows to make those characters and their friendship the main draw. In The Greatest Beer Run Ever, I get the sense that Farrelly is trying to do something like that again, but the conviction in our main character needed to be much more prominent much earlier, and we needed a stronger sense of the connection he has to his friends. Because these are lacking, and because the film has nothing else to really stand on to make it distinct or thought-provoking, the entire experience doesn’t work.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever isn’t a terrible movie. The performances are good if not exceptional, and there’s a solid funny line here and there. The cinematography from Sean Porter is very pleasing to the eye, and Farrelly adequately handles the larger sense of scale that the setting often calls for, even managing to pull off a couple intense, suspenseful moments. But its emotional core is hollow, the humor misses as often as it hits, and it leaves you with nothing new to think about. If this was going to work, it either needed to dig deeper into the emotion and conviction of Chickie, take advantage of the bizarre premise by going full-throttle into outlandish comedy territory, or mix the two in a better way that doesn’t dilute either one. The film instead tries to find a middle ground and sadly comes across as generic as a result. I feel like The Greatest Beer Run Ever is going to get more ridicule than what’s maybe justified, especially if it ends up with any sort of awards recognition. But I can’t defend it as a good movie that deserves such attention. I can tell it had good intentions, but they didn’t play out as well as I’d hoped.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever premiered at TIFF on September 13, 2022, and will be available to watch on Apple TV+ on September 30.