“You’ve got a good heart, Chickie. It’s your brain I worry about.”
Having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is based on a true story that becomes director Peter Farrelly’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Best Picture, “Green Book.” With a similar focus on one man’s journey to discover he doesn’t know everything there is to know in this world, Zac Efron takes on the role of John “Chickie” Donohue. Chickie is a 1967-era ex-merchant marine living in his hometown of Inwood, New York, drinking beers with his buddies at the neighborhood pub run by The Colonel (Bill Murray). He sports a mustache, is most likely the laziest son-of-a-bitch in New York, and prides himself on being a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, of which many of his neighborhood friends have sacrificed their lives overseas. While most of his drinking buddies and family members support the war by thinking America is over there fighting communism, Chickie’s sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) is the cliched holdout, protesting the war on the streets of New York.
The concept of protesting the war is foreign to a guy like Chickie. He is stubborn and determined to believe that whatever the U.S. government tells its constituents must be accurate and that disrespecting the troops is a mortal sin. Watching news coverage of war protestors, Chickie feels empathy for the soldiers returning from war, feeling like everything they accomplish in Vietnam is wasted on the American people. So, during yet another night of drinking, Chickie gets the bright idea to somehow travel to Vietnam, locate kids from the neighborhood, and bring them a beer to show support and solidarity with their war efforts.
As nonsensical as that plan sounds, the real Chickie Donohue did precisely that, and “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is his story. After jumping aboard a cargo ship destined for Saigon by way of New Jersey, Chickie arrives in Vietnam and immediately runs into the first of his friends on the list. They share beers with fellow soldiers, and every one of them believes Chickie must have a screw loose. They tell him to go home, but he insists that he needs to find the others from the neighborhood, so he embarks on a quest to locate every single one of them. Pretending to be a CIA agent, Chickie is provided transport to various locations throughout the war zone, despite his apparent civilian look and the fact that he is carrying a duffle bag full of beers.
With every friend he finds in this dramedy ”Saving Private Ryan” journey, Chickie is presented with the true horrors of the Vietnam War. He makes friends with a photojournalist (Russell Crowe) who attempts to convey what’s really happening in the country as American government officials lie about who is responsible for the abomination Chickie sees with his own eyes. Efron is perfectly cast as the gullible war supporter with a heart of gold turned open-minded defender of the truth. Remarkably, Chickie didn’t die a thousand times during his journey from any number of war zone dangers: enemy combatants, friendly fire, bugs, elephant stampedes…you name it, Chickie experienced it.
Never mind that the Pabst Blue Ribbon Chickie carries throughout “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” has got to be the warmest in history. It symbolizes the character’s resolve and pride in what he believes is a nice gesture of goodwill. Farrelly marvels in a filmmaking style that blends true accounts with obviously manufactured tension and sequences for dramatic effect, but it works well in this comedic fashion. Having traveled 12,000 nautical miles to deliver beer to his buddies, Chickie is simply one of those guys that’s too dumb to get caught or killed. With some friends appreciating the gesture while others argue with him about being in a war zone when he doesn’t have to be, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” delivers humor and heart for a period in history that honestly had neither. Not every war film needs to be so dramatic that it tugs at the heartstrings of patriotism. Chickie’s story is a bewildered one but expertly crafted nonetheless. Efron takes Chickie on a journey of self-discovery while detailing how foolish some people back home were about what was being shown on television. It’s a simple story that reflects the atrocities of war while defending one man’s perspective and trajectory in doing what he can to help those in need.
Chickie just needs to do a little less drinking and a little more thinking.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟