The Greatest Beer Run Ever tells the mostly true story of United States Marine, Merchant Marine, and all-around awesome guy John “Chickie” Donohue. Chickie was a merchant Marine who took a ship to Vietnam. There he undertook a four-month-long adventure across the country to bring beer to his four friends, with whom had grown up, and who were then fighting in the Vietnam War.
This story became the basis for the book The Greatest Beer Run Ever, on which the film is based. Chickie had served for six years in Asia as a U.S. Marine and had already traveled to Vietnam as a Merchant Marine three times before he made his famous beer run.
The ‘Greatest Beer Run’ – A romp in Vietnam
Zac Effron plays the unambitiously blue-collar Chickie. He and his friends are loudmouths, bombastic, beer-drinking bros. At the beginning of the film, the shadow of Vietnam hangs over him. Kids from his neighborhood are serving, and many have died in the war.
This inspires Chickie to hatch a scheme to bring them beer. He’s inspired by the way the media is portraying the war, anti-war protests, and by the Colonel, a WWII veteran who owns the local watering hole. Ultimately, he wants to show the guys serving that they still had the support of the neighborhood.
After drunkenly pitching the plan, he later tries to back out and find various excuses, but the world won’t let that happen, so he loads up a duffel bag full of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hits the road. Or, well, the seas. He travels to Vietnam and begins trying to hunt down the guys from his neighborhood. Along the way, he meets jaded reporters, optimistic but disconnected officers, and everyday soldiers who think he’s a CIA agent.
Typically movies over-dramatize real events to make them more exciting, and while that likely happened here, some of the crazier stuff is actually true.
Soldiers really did think he was a CIA agent, and his friend did really find him walking down a Vietnamese road in the middle of the night as the film depicts, and he flights and rides along the way. However, it seems like the entire anti-war arc is a creation of the movie. Chickie never teamed up with a jaded war correspondent; never witnessed a CIA agent throw a guy out of a helicopter; nor was he pursued by the CIA.
The truth about war
He learns that Americans are being lied to by higher-ups. He learns that war is hell. It’s brutal, ugly, and vicious. At the same time, the movie tries to turn this into some form of a redemption story for Chickie, but he never really does anything that he needs to redeem, and being naive isn’t a great sin.
The movie is a bit condescending. There is a character who is introduced just to die later in order to try and invoke some form of emotional response from the audience. The movie is preaching that our view of war is wrong and that it’s not what we see on TV. Yet it doesn’t portray a realistic war experience either. The fun and more serious tones of the movie don’t play well with each other.
The movie would have worked much better as just a fun romp. It’s the Greatest Beer Run ever and doesn’t need to be pro or anti-war. Taking an anti-war stance about Vietnam isn’t relevant in 2022 and is certainly not an original theme or one well done by this film.
Worth the watch?
The performances are solid. Zac Effron is an odd choice for the main role, but he does come off as a blue-collar guy. What I don’t like about his performance is that he’s an idiot. Not just an optimistic naive guy, but an actual idiot. He’s clever and smart when he needs to be, but most of the time, he’s just bumbling.
Russell Crowe is great as photographer Arthur Coates, but beyond that, there aren’t really any big performances. Bill Murray plays the Colonel, but he doesn’t get much time to shine. The director failed to take advantage of Murray in any way.
If you have AppleTV, then the movie is worth it. (I got AppleTV to watch the film, and it wasn’t worth the hassle. Watch out for my scathing AppleTV review.)
The film is competently made, and it gets a few laughs, but ultimately it’s jumbled up. It could be a much simpler movie about a naive but optimistic dude bringing beer to his friends. Ultimately it’s a two-hour film that trades laughs for a half-hearted war-is-bad arc.
Feature image courtesy of Apple TV.
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