The Greatest Beer Run Ever makes for an interesting viewing
For a glug of Zac Efron’s charm, the movie The Greatest Beer Run Ever makes for an interesting viewing. While a war continues to rage between Russia and Ukraine, the Peter Farrelly-directed film captures a slice of real life that unfolded during the Vietnam War.
The war didn’t just take the lives of thousands of young Americans who answered calls of successive American governments, it ended up making generations of Americans distrustful of the government. The war changed how young Americans looked at politics.
John “Chickie” Donohue (played by Zac Efron) was a young man when the war took place and like the million others, he never doubted the motives of the American government. Only when he was encouraged to hitch-hike towards the warfront by a local barkeep, the Colonel (an almost unrecognisable Bill Murray), Chickie realised what the media was talking about. The Colonel’s mind is trapped in his fighting days during World War II; Vietnam War wasn’t World War II.
A patriotic Chickie didn’t have much to do in his Irish neighbourhood in Manhattan but spend most of the time with his likeminded argy-bargy friends. For him patriotism meant fighting in Vietnam and downing beer with a shrug to whatever the media had to say about the actual rumbles on the ground.
Each time anyone argues that media is right, the Colonel flies off the handle, painting every news report with a heavy coat of suspicion. In fact, he suggests the boys in Vietnam need someone to boost their confidence; they need something to be reminded of home, like beer.
The story is real and Chickie is still alive. Zac keeps his moustache in place and his shirt on through the film. He agrees with everything the Colonel had to sell, even if that meant going against his young sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), who was protesting on the streets, chanting: “Hey, hey, LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson), how many kids did you kill today.”
In the winter of 1968, the 26-year-old civilian stuffs a duffel bag with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to go on a “patriotic” mission that involved delivering beer to a few of his soldier friends who were from the neighbourhood.
Sounds like a dumb idea but Chickie undertakes the suicidal mission, taking a ride on a cargo ship headed for Saigon. The problem: Chickie doesn’t know what to do once he reaches Saigon. Luck favours him as American soldiers mistake him for a CIA operative while his denials only make it seem more likely that he’s an operative.
Of course, everything changes once he reaches Saigon and then to other parts of the country to deliver beer. His soldier friends are shocked to see Chickie because they themselves were sick and tired of the reality war had to offer. Like Santa Claus’s bottomless sack, his duffel bag continues to produce Pabst Blue Ribbon. Only when he begins to meet local people and journalists that reality dawns. An always-on-the-move gruff, cynical photojournalist (Russell Crowe) steps in to save Chickie’s neck time and again.
The message of the Apple TV+ film is certainly well-intentioned and had Tom Hanks been young, he would have jumped at the role of Chickie. The film brings up relevant themes time and again, like lying government officials, a nation divided, the treatment given to prisoners of war (Chickie watches one being tossed out of a US military chopper) and the need for responsible journalism. His duffel bag doesn’t change the course of the war but it certainly changes his mindset and sort of frees him from the grip the Colonel had on him.
That’s all fine but director Peter Farrelly often has made all of Chickie’s friends appear similar — clichéd and good. The same goes for the music, which can well be a rough cut for another edition of the classic TV show The Wonder Years, which too was set against the Vietnam era. The nightmare that Vietnam had become is seen only in flashes, like the killing of a traffic cop on the streets of Saigon or a war prison being thrown out of a chopper.
As for Efron, one can’t believe that he has done films like Baywatch and The Lucky One. The film offers him depth and like his duffel bag of endless beer cans, there is another invisible bag that he reaches into to bring out emotions that show the slowly evolving gulf created between him and the visitors to the Colonel’s bar. The overall message is a shining one: supporting the troops doesn’t mean supporting the causes the soldiers are made to fight for.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Director: Peter Farrelly
Cast: Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, Bill Murray and Jake Picking
Running time: 126 minutes