The Greatest Beer Run Ever, review: a wimpy war film that fires nothing but blanks

Zac Efron and Jake Picking from a scene in The Greatest Beer Run Ever - Golf Thanaporn
Zac Efron and Jake Picking from a scene in The Greatest Beer Run Ever - Golf Thanaporn

Three years ago, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to Green Book, an odd-couple road trip film about a cultured black pianist and his lunkish, white chauffeur on a concert tour of the segregated American south. Its director, Peter Farrelly, was then better known as one half of the Farrelly brothers, whose early comedies – Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary – were at the smirking vanguard of the 1990s gross-out craze.

Back then, Oscar glory was the last thing you’d have forecast. Could one of the men who’d brought us the Ben Stiller zipper incident really pull off a mid-career pivot to nuanced, issue-driven period pieces?

Those of us who suspected everything good about Green Book was down to its stars, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, were dubious even back then – and Farrelly’s follow-up does nothing to prompt a rethink. Much like its predecessor, The Greatest Beer Run Ever is based on a true story from the 1960s, fits neatly into a classic guy-movie genre (in this case the Vietnam war picture), and carries itself as the kind of old-fashioned, fun-with-heart entertainment Hollywood generally no longer makes.

But in its craven triangulation of a political angle that will offend absolutely no-one, it feels wimpishly contemporary: imagine Platoon rewritten by Nick Clegg.

It centres on John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), a Marine Corps veteran and merchant seaman whose military service fell into a peacetime sweet spot. These days his younger friends and neighbours are being dragged off to Vietnam, while he drinks in his local bar (proprietor: Bill Murray, in a low-wattage cameo) and watches relentlessly negative coverage on the TV news. Doesn’t America owe his buddies a break – and a beer? The gallant Chickie takes it upon himself to bring them just that, filling a kitbag with lager and jumping on the next cargo ship to Saigon, where he plans to deliver them by hand.

The idea is that Chickie’s experiences will challenge his simplistic view of the conflict, but Farrelly frames his jaunt as a glorified gap year, with various atrocities repackaged as opportunities for personal growth. Napalm bombing runs, soldiers stumbling around with their limbs blown off: every horror is followed by a camera pan to Efron pulling a puppy-dog “much-to-think-about” face.

Worst of all is a sequence in which a Vietnamese prisoner is hurled from a helicopter mid-interrogation: not only is this followed by the requisite shot of the Sad Eyes of Efron on full beam, but also a spectacularly tone-deaf nostalgic pop-music cue (Cherish, by The Association), which plays wistfully over a long-distance view of the man plummeting to his death.

Russell Crowe provides a welcome stab of sweaty, sandpaper-chinned energy as Coates, a press photographer who shows Chickie that funnelling all this bad news back home can also, in its own way, count as patriotic.

But the supporting performances otherwise range from clichéd to cringeworthy – and the script’s dogged balancing of pro and anti-war lines smacks less of actual moral spadework than a desperate attempt to defuse the argument.

12A cert, 127 mins. In cinemas and on Apple TV+ from September 30