‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’ blends action with comedy but lacks nuance


Illustration by Ziye Wang

The movie released Sept. 30.

Andrés Buenahora , Reporter

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

It should come as no surprise “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” directed by Peter Farrelly, features alcohol from the jump. The film opens with boyish freeloader John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron) hoisting two massive celebratory pitchers in the air. 

A Toronto International Film Festival selection, the movie, set in 1967, premiered on Apple TV+ Friday. 

As the plot progresses beyond the initial bar scene, Donohue’s passive indolence and lack of empathy make it hard to root for him — at first. He even incites a fight with a group of peaceful protestors, led by his sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) — a scene which becomes a foundational beat for his shifting perspective on the Vietnam War.

With a grimy duffel bag and absolutely no direction, Donohue hops on a boat to Vietnam, choosing to travel overseas for the sole purpose of delivering American beer to his friends in the military. 

Efron’s character has an indulgent air of self-righteousness, mocking his sister for honoring the deaths of lost Americans, while insisting his infamous beer run is more patriotic than any protest. 

To those actually serving their country, Donohue’s actions are irritatingly selfish. Nearly every friend he tracks down castigates him for sneaking into a war zone he knows nothing about. His arc is a maladroit journey of realizing war is not as simple as he and his drinking buddies back home suspect. 

Donohue also condemns a group of foreign journalists for their authentic coverage of the Vietnam War — until he witnesses violence and death firsthand. It takes an admirable performance from Russell Crowe’s middle-aged journalist to ground Donohue, whose stubbornness is juxtaposed with the former’s somber maturity. 

Described by one soldier as “too dumb to get killed,” Donohue is fueled by his own immaturity, luck and likely more alcohol than the film explicitly shows. He faces significantly fewer obstacles than he should on his quest to Vietnam, as military personnel conveniently mistake him for CIA and help him reach his next stop time and time again.

Although it’s based on a true story, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is riddled with inconsistencies and unrealistic narratives, such as the nature of Donohue’s friendships. One soldier goes as far as to disobey direct orders from his commander to drive Donohue to his desired location just because the two played CYO basketball together in elementary school. 

The movie’s messages about the Vietnam War are trite and empty of any real substance. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” focuses little on the Vietnamese perspective of the war, with the exception of a few seconds of screen time for a terrified Vietnamese child carried to safety by her mother and a few scenes featuring a friendly Vietnamese officer who Donohue dubs “Oklahoma.” 

Played by Kevin Tran, the officer (his real name is Hieu but Donohue refuses to learn this until it’s necessary) is killed off the second he serves the film’s purpose of helping its protagonist grow. Rather than being given emotional depth and complexity of their own, the Vietnamese characters in this movie fall into stereotypes.

The film is entertaining and offers more comedic relief than most of its genre, but suffers from an unsatisfying propensity for ridiculousness that is almost satirical. 

Contemporary cinema has seen recent biopics, like Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of The Chicago 7” address the Vietnam War with nuance. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” does not. 

The concept of people like Donohue pouring themselves into supporting a cause they don’t actually understand is an interesting development. But, by the time this Efron flick even gets around to a mere outline of what could’ve been, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” runs out. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @andresbuena01

Related Stories:

Reel Thoughts: ‘Luck’ is an unlucky animated feature with flashes of unfulfilled potential

Reel Thoughts: ‘Euphoria’ season two proves the show is brilliant, but not for everyone