War! Spies! Beer!
BQB here with a review of The Greatest Beer Run Ever.
I’ve got streaming services, 3.5 readers. I’ve got streaming services out the wazoo. No, seriously. Check my wazoo and you’ll see nothing but services streaming out of it.
Apple TV is one of those streaming services and for the most part, I wonder why I bothered to sign up for it in the first place, though occasionally, I find a rare gem like this flick that makes the expense worthwhile.
The premise? It’s the 1960s and merchant marine John “Chickie” Donahue is a wayward bum. Yes, he does work on commercial shipping vessels, but then does nothing but sleep and drink all day during the months between voyages. He and his father disagree on this. Dad calls it sloth. Chickie calls it his downtime, like a professor’s sabbatical.
The Vietnam War is in full swing and every day, there’s news of one of Chickie’s high school friends who died in action. Upset by protesters (his sister is one of them) and negative news coverage, Chickie and his fellow barflies at a dive run by an old WW2 colonel simply called “The Colonel,” (an almost unrecognizable Bill Murray in terms of haircut, voice and demeanor), lament over booze that US soldiers aren’t getting enough support. Press and protesters suck, in their point of view, and while people are lining up to criticize America’s fighting men, no one is doing anything to thank them.
And so, a scheme developed in the mind of a bunch of boozehounds is hatched. The Colonel donates a giant gym bag full of brewskis that Chickie will take to Vietnam, where he will then seek out every one of his enlisted high school classmates and give them a beer and a thank you.
At first, it sounds ridiculous. But then when you realize Chickie has access to commercial shipping vessels, it sounds less ridiculous. Chickie takes a job aboard a cargo ship hauling ammo for the military and for a brief moment you wonder if he can pull it off only to realize there’s an enormous difference between bringing supplies to a port controlled by the US Military and a civilian traipsing around a war zone.
Personally, I wondered why Chickie just didn’t pop the gym bag full of brews down on an ammo crate, shake the hand of one of the soldiers who came to pick it up and tell him to pass the beer out to as many boys as he could. But when it comes to beer, Chickie does nothing half-assed.
I won’t spoil the rest other than to say from thereon, Chickie goes on a whirlwind adventure as a civilian traipsing around wartorn Vietnam. Attacking Vietcong, shady CIA spies, and US military appalled by how stupid anyone could be to come here if they don’t have to are among the many threats that Chickie has to contend with.
At times, the movie feels silly and one wonders how much of it is real and how much of it is embellished for film. Chickie survives by the skin of his teeth through a series of lucky breaks, miracles and misunderstandings (many soldiers help him move around under the false assumption that Chicky and his truthful story of being on a beer run is just a wink, wink, nudge, nudge cover story because the truth, that some idiot from New York thought it would be a good idea to run around a war ravaged country handing out beers, is too unbelievable.
Bonus points for the movie bringing home some serious points about war. On one hand, as the Colonel points out, television has ruined America’s chances of ever winning a war again, for, as he argues, if America had received daily live reports showing the carnage of the Battle of the Bulge, Americans would have demanded an immediate end to WW2 and the Nazis would reign supreme all over the globe today.
On the other hand, Chickie, aided by a warzone correspondent played by Russell Crowe, comes to learn that press and protestors have valid concerns about the war, that there’s no way to win it so to continue to let US soldiers die in a hopeless quagmire is wrong and those who make this argument aren’t trying to hurt the soldiers but rather help them.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. A great performance by Zac Efron as Chickie. There is a book this movie is based on but I haven’t read it yet. I would be curious to know how much of the film is real and what was fictional just to make the movie watchable. If it is all real, then Chickie must have had a guardian angel watching over him during his epic beer run.