Raise a can and toast ‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” (2022) – On a personal note, my greatest beer run occurred during my senior year of college.  It entailed a trip to a nearby Tops supermarket in Buffalo, NY, and yours truly secured enough cheap American beer to overindulge a small army.

The aforementioned trek only ran a few miles, so John “Chickie” Donohue has me flat-out beat. It’s not even close. 

The year was 1967, and Chickie said, “I’m going to Vietnam, and I’m bringing them beer.”

“Them” are his buddies from Inwood, a New York City neighborhood, fighting in the Vietnam War. 

Chickie, a U.S. Marine veteran who served from 1958 to 1964, lives stateside in ’67 and wants to make a difference.  So, JCD talks himself into hopping on a boat from the NYC region, traveling to Southeast Asia with a duffle bag full of unopened beer cans, and attempting to make a foolhardy but earnest delivery.

For the record, according to ports.com, that’s an 11,944-mile voyage. 

As crazy as this idea sounds, it’s a true story! 

John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron)

Director/co-writer Peter Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber” (1994), “Kingpin” (1996), “Green Book” (2018)) and writers Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones directed and penned Donohue’s outlandish actions to film in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever”, and Zac Efron – sporting a healthy mustache – plays the infamous/famous lead. 

With Farrelly leading the cinematic charge, one might assume that “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is a riotous comedy, but surprisingly, it is not.

Although “Beer Run” doesn’t work in a comedic way, John Donohue’s adventure is a worthwhile one to experience.  The movie volleys between an absurdist drama and the dangers of war, and it works, primarily because this tale seems impossible to swallow, especially as our lead dodges bullets on the battlefield and witnesses explosions in urban centers.

This film occasionally has “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987) vibes, but Farrelly does NOT ask Efron to perform zany antics that Robin Williams classically did during his Oscar-nominated performance as U.S. Military radio personality Adrian Cronauer.  No, you won’t see Efron’s Donohue imitate Lawrence Welk or The Wicked Witch of the “North” behind a microphone. 

Instead, Donohue is the object of ridicule, but the intended jokes – about John’s lackadaisical persona and his dad – didn’t land. 

However, the film effectively establishes Chickie straightaway.  He’s not a 26-year-old man pursuing regal career goals.  He’s getting by, living at home with his family, and drinking with his buds, but he shows conviction in one space: taking a firm stance on the war. 

Look, the fighting in Vietnam raged between the North and South, but the United States boiled into a civil war of its own. 

This Southeast Asian conflict split American opinions. Compromise among the end-the-war and support-our-troops factions seemed about as unlikely – at the time – as The UK letting go of Northern Ireland, Mickey Mantle joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, or Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz remarrying. 

In other words, no hope.

Even though Farrelly doesn’t present this stateside argument on a grand scale, he includes a couple of scenes with protestors – including one picketer specifically close to Chickie – clashing with John, and these moments do enough to drive the dividing-line point home.

Efron skillfully portrays Chickie as an everyman who convinces himself that traveling halfway across the world to hand deliver adult beverages in a war zone is a sensible idea.  Additionally, Zac shares Chickie’s frightening realization that this beer brainstorm overflows with recklessness. Not surviving the journey back to NYC becomes a real possibility.

Zac convinces the real John Donohue, too.

In Corey Kilgannon’s Sept. 27, 2022 The New York Times article, Donohue says, “I’m no judge of acting but, I think (Zac) really nailed me.”  He adds, “Watching (Zac) playing me, I felt the same emotion that I felt 50-something years ago.”

Farrelly doesn’t capture massive New York protests, but he his cast, and crew shot in Thailand for their war scenes, and every moment here authentically feels like 1967 Vietnam.  This is important because Chickie’s delivery scheme seems too implausible to be genuine.  So, the Vietnam setting HAS to be believed on-screen because we’re constantly questioning our belief in Chickie’s ultimate goal as he navigates his way through this foreign land like a blind man following bread crumbs.

He leads a one-man car crash through the firefight wreckage, and simply observing this surreal trail of eccentric deliveries is worth the price of admission.

Does John meet up with all of his military buddies?  You have to watch the movie to find out, but admittedly, it is problematic keeping Chickie’s friends’ names straight. And where are they stationed exactly? We don’t have a sense of space.

Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe) and John “Chickie” Donohue (Efron)

John wings it, but it would be helpful for us, the movie-civilians, to see a list of names revealed on-screen, and then repeated, as our hero attempts to reach each one.  Displaying something like “Chapter 1 – Rick” would be nice.  Still, we get the general idea, and recognizable faces Bill Murray and Russell Crowe play supporting roles to assist John at home and abroad, respectively.  Although, Crowe’s screen time is dramatically more impactful. 

Chickie’s attempted stunt did not affect the war’s outcome, but it brought new lifelong memories to the Inwood community and the man’s family and friends.

Mr. Donohue is still alive, and Peter Farrelly, Zac Efron, and company are retelling his unbelievable yarn on the big screen. 

So, raise a can and toast Chickie and ‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Peter Farrelly

Written by:  Peter Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Pete Jones

Starring:  Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, and Bill Murray

Runtime: 126 minutes

Rated: R

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