Charming, but tonally misguided, Peter Farrelly’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a worthy showcase of Zac Efron’s talents. Despite the charming lead performance, the message becomes muddled as the film progresses.
Efron stars as John “Chickie” Donohue, a well-meaning but lazy merchant marine living an aimless life in 1967 New York. As the ongoing Vietnam War claims more lives of the men in their neighborhood, local bartender The Colonel (Bill Murray) bemoans the lack of positive media coverage; wishing he could deliver a beer to the soldiers from the area. Chickie takes the initiative and triumphantly announces his intention to do just that.
When Chickie arrives, he looks to deliver beer to four of his friends within a 72 hour window. Underestimating the danger, Chickie uses his charms and military paranoia to get to see his friends. Along the way, he learns more about the realities of the war from first-hand knowledge and the advice of war correspondent Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe).
The overall theme of “Wait, war is bad?” is as clumsily executed as it is conceived. There is no gray to any non-soldier character. They either believe the war is just and protesters are destroying America, or they are protesters who face a hard truth that politicians are the true evil. It isn’t subtle, and I’m not sure it’s supposed to be. This is not a film meant to appeal to middle American sensibilities. It’s the film equivalent of The Brady Bunch kids proclaiming, “Gee Dad, I never thought of it that way…”
The film touches on some small flairs of media narratives and convenient truths, but it’s too focused on its primary message to dive deeper into anything more interesting. Much like Chickie’s quest, the film ends up being a futile gesture.
Efron’s charm-heavy performance is his best yet. Despite playing the ne’re-do-well man-child character we’ve seen a hundred times, the actor coveys more than what is on the page. With Efron’s youthful good looks hidden behind a thick mustache, he looks like a normal guy who doesn’t realize how futile his gesture is. As the film turns towards more serious material, he adapts well with it.
Crowe does a fine job when he eventually shows up. He adds little touches of brilliance that we’ve come accustomed to seeing from the actor, but he is too underutilized to actually have anything to do. Each soldier does a nice job of presenting a piece of his neighborhood without being the same person four times. Kyle Allen, Archie Reneaux, and Will Ropp all do fine work, but Jake Picking is the standout as a war-weary badass who has no time for Chickie’s shenanigans.
Some of the battle scenes are authentically harrowing, but it’s played with such jokester energy, the reality of the situation never feels right. Eventually, when the battles get too real, it makes the previously jokester energy feel that much more off-putting.
While well-intentioned, The Greatest Beer Run Ever doesn’t have the capability or the ability to get anywhere other than surface-level about the Vietnam War. Zac Efron tries his best, but for once, he is much better than his film.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever is now streaming on AppleTV+