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The Greatest Beer Run Ever

***
2022

‘…has a jarring mix of tones to play with as it fuses comic macho braggadocio with the fog of war, but Peter Farrelly’s the right man for the job and just about pulls it off…’

That title makes it sound like a much-needed Smokey and the Bandit reboot, but this Appletv+ production falls short of terms of orang-utans in Trans-Ams. The Greatest Beer Run Ever is in fact a fairly straightforward Vietnam war movie, and one with a factual basis. Taken from a book by the same name by John ‘Chuckie’ Donohue, played here by Zac Efron, Peter (Green Book) Farrelly’s film has a jarring mix of tones to play with as it fuses comic macho braggadocio with the fog of war, but Farrelly’s the right man for the job and just about pulls it off.

An impressive cast suggests an awards season outlier, with Russell Crowe and Bill Murray playing the two central influences that Chuckie moves between; yup, it’s the structure of Platoon all over again. US merchant seaman Chuckie frequents an NYC bar where he admires The Colonel (Bill Murray) whose grizzled brand of combat experience Chuckie looks up to. Keen to find a way to reward the brave boys he regularly hears The Colonel defend in bar-room conversations, Chuckie arranges a cheeky beer run to lift the spirits of the local boys who are fighting overseas. But the map is not the territory, and Chuckie’s mission lands him in the orbit of experienced war photographer Arthur Coates (Crowe). The duo tentatively engage while Chuckie tries to figure his way out of a country at war, with Coates opening his eyes to a bigger picture than the grunts are ever allowed to see…

While he’s best known for his comedy partnership, Farrelly is quite an tricky character in his own right; his 1998 book The Comedy Writer deftly drops masks as he creates a fictionalised version of himself as author, with very dark mood swings included. The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a far more superficial affair, but the serio-comic approach actually carries some of the absurd latent menace of a genuine war zone. Murray gives an appropriately dialled back performance, while Crowe contributes another to a recent run of fun turns. Efron continues to threaten to become a bona fide star, and he’s probably a better choice than the original tapped Viggo Mortensen; this is a story about a transformative and political experience, and Efron’s lightweight persona just about suits the required gear change.

It’s odd that somehow Apple are making films that have the kind of tone and content expected of an exceptional late 70’s tv movie; The Greatest Beer Run Ever suffers from a blandness at times since Chuckie’s route to enlightenment about the skewed system is fairly familiar and lightly sketched. But there IS an audience for this kind of film, one that both makes light of war at the same time as it acknowledges a cost; veterans who might feel better served by this movie than civilians, and that’s perhaps by design. George Clooney has been unsuccessfully trying to revive military larks for a decade without catching a break, but The Greatest Beer Run Ever might just quench the thirst of those who miss the honest, route-one approach of the old school military comedy-drama.

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  1. Well, what do you know.
    How much beer can one guy even carry anyway? Did he hire an 18wheeler? Because it seems like one guy can carry enough beer for one guy. That won’t help a platoon of thirsty soldiers very much.

    Is the director trying to say something about rampant consumerism?

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