‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’ review: Zac Efron brings the boys a cold one


For his follow-up feature to the Oscar-winning 2018 film “Green Book,” director Peter Farrelly has turned to a genial true story from the Vietnam War. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” isn’t your typical Vietnam film. Based on a wild, wildly improbable tale, it hews closer to comedy than gritty war drama — it’s Nam-com, if you will. But over the course of the film, it evolves from lark to dark as the protagonist learns the brutal reality of war during his harrowing journey delivering cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to his pals.

Farrelly (known mostly for his comic collaborations with his brother Bobby), along with Pete Jones and Brian Hayes Currie, adapted the book “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” by John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Molloy. Zac Efron stars as Chickie Donohue, an unmotivated good-time guy from Inwood, Manhattan, who just can’t stand that his buddies from the neighborhood keep getting killed in the war. Yet he’s also mad at the news media for showing only the negative and doesn’t understand why his sister keeps attending war protests. Efron’s version of Chickie is an easily swayed naif, which is how one thing leads to another.

When his ardently patriotic local bartender, the Colonel (Bill Murray), expresses his desire to bring the boys a beer, Chickie announces he’s going to do it, despite everyone’s belief that he’ll blow it off like he does everything. But things seem strangely aligned to go Chickie’s way. He’s a merchant marine, and it just so happens that a ship full of ammo bound for Saigon is short a crew member. So he boards with a duffel full of PBR and a head full of … well, absolutely nothing. Chickie has no plan, but then again, things are lining up to make sure that he achieves his harebrained mission.

Through a combination of dumb luck, charm, naivete, street smarts and good old American friendliness — and the fact that everyone thinks he’s CIA — Chickie manages to scam his way onto military planes and choppers. Incredibly, he makes his way around the country to deliver beer to four of the boys from the ’hood and gets caught in the Tet Offensive while he’s at it. Although it may seem he’s having a Forrest Gump adventure, when it comes to these facts, at least, there’s no creative license taken. Some stories are just stranger than fiction.

The first half is stilted and smirky, with Farrelly’s filmmaking serviceable at best, some of the motivation very rushed. But as Chickie finds his footing, so does the film, falling in step with the young man as he realizes that this trip is much more than a dare. What starts out light and a bit silly takes on a growing poignance with each PBR cracked, each “see ya back in the neighborhood.” So too does Farrelly’s aesthetic evolve, moving from a brightly lighted, almost artificial-looking style, to a darker, grittier and more fluid approach as things prove to be more serious. Russell Crowe offers some gravitas as a war correspondent who takes Chickie under his wing for a bit.

The beer run turns into a transformative experience as Chickie takes in the chaos, violence and loss of war, but more important, as he sees the reality of government lies and propaganda firsthand. Though the messaging is a bit flat-footed, it’s nonetheless effective and clearly deeply felt, and it brings a sense of significance to this otherwise wacky real-life story, one that really does have to be seen to be believed.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’

Rated: R, for language and some war violence

Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 30 in general release; also streaming on Apple TV+


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