What bugs me the most about “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is director Peter Farrelly’s indecisiveness. He can’t seem to pick a tone and stick with it. The first part is filled with lighthearted moments that make it seem like the film is a tailor-made crowd-pleasing movie. The last half of the film (and the strongest) is firm in its anti-war messaging. Farrelly tries to be too many things to too many people, and the result is a film that feels at odds with itself.
Set in 1967, the film tells the true story of Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron), a man who wants to do something special to show his support for his neighborhood friends serving in Vietnam. He gets the outrageous idea to hand-deliver cans of beer to them on the front lines so they can have a little taste of home, and to show them that somebody back in New York still cares. When the locals start to encourage (and count on) Chickie to complete his mission, the man sets off for the jungles of Vietnam with a rucksack full of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
It’s a terrific story that should make a great film. The problem is that there isn’t much to the movie other than the premise. Some of the situations Chickie finds himself in are ridiculous, and there’s no complexity to the story at all. It’s as straightforward as they come, in what I can only presume was a conscious effort by Farrelly to keep it easily accessible for mainstream audiences.
The film briefly touches on the political and social impacts of the Vietnam War, including the division between Chickie’s family and friends. The film gets better once he heads back to Saigon and the story settles into its strong anti-war stance. It’s heavy-handed in its “war is hell” messaging, and it’s where the film gets away from its actors.
Efron is fine as the film’s leading man, but the role requires a depth that seems to be a bit too much of a stretch for him at this point in his career. He’s talented, but is asked to do more than he’s comfortably capable. Bill Murray is a high point of the film, although he only makes a very brief appearance as the neighborhood barkeep. The best work comes from Russell Crowe as a photojournalist.
There are some memorable scenes in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” but they will be soon forgotten under the weight of the film’s boilerplate script. Just because the movie is based on an interesting true story doesn’t automatically make it a winner.