Review: Zac Efron’s Goofy Energy Is a Bright Spot in an Otherwise Misguided The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Based on truly inspiring real events (which is not to say the film is inspiring; stay tuned…), The Greatest Beer Run Ever tells the story of dopey-but-loyal New Yorker Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron) circa 1967, who lives in a neighborhood where a lot of young men were called up to serve in Vietnam. These were the guys Chickie grew up with (I’m not sure if the film explains how he got out of serving, other than his being in the Merchant Marines), and he’s tired of college-aged kids (including his hippie sister) saying terrible things about the reason the U.S. is involved in the war and the soldiers who are fighting and dying over there. To show his support for the effort and his pals, Chickie loads up a duffle bag with cans of beer and grabs the first ship across the Pacific.

The story seems silly and ridiculous because that’s exactly what it is. Dickie is a bit ignorant as to how messed up the war actually is, so he thinks he’ll be able to just stroll in, drop off his beer, hug his friends, and head home, but nothing in Vietnam is that simple. Almost as soon as he gets off the boat in country, the military thinks he’s CIA, which he’s able to use to his advantage. They don’t ask too many questions, so Chickie doesn’t have to give any reasons for being there. But the longer he stays in Vietnam, the more he begins to realize the terrible price being exacted by these young men, and how nobody really seems to know why they’re there in the first place.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly, who won two Oscars recently for making Green Book, and the film has the same vaguely misguided intentions as that film; it’s heart is in the right place but the execution is sloppy and ham-handed. Chickie’s tour of Vietnam is set up like a journey in which he learns a new lesson at every stop. He makes a new friend in one place, is mistaken for someone else in another, learns about sacrifice somewhere else, and just happens to be in Saigon during the Tet Offensive, nearly getting killed and stranding him in Vietnam until the airport can open again. At one point, he teams up with a photojournalist named Coates (Russell Crowe), who sees an interesting story in Chickie’s mission. But he also see Chickie as everything that’s wrong with pockets of Americans who blindly do what their government tells them and support lost causes for supposedly the greater good.

Any goodwill I felt toward Beer Run is entirely due to Efron being so likable and funny; Chickie is a big, dumb dog with a gleam in his eye, especially when he’s drunk, which is most nights. Even after he tells his friends he’s going to make this trip, they don’t believe him and he doesn’t really want to go. But when he discovers how easy it is to get there, he talks himself into corner and has to go. I’ve grown to really appreciate Efron as both an acting and comedic talent, and he gets to flex both in this film. I especially like the few early sequences with him and Bill Murray as The Colonel, the local watering hole’s bartender (with an aggressively bad, funny haircut).

The film touches on Chickie’s feelings of guilt, his anxiety about how many of his old friends are dying overseas, and his obligation as the family members of the friends he’s going to see give him small gifts to deliver, including the mother of one boy who is MIA. Beer Run has its moments but is mostly uninspired and emotionally stunted; at one point, it even becomes more of an action movie than anything, which seems strangely misguided, as does a great deal of this movie. It was a closer call than I was expecting, but it still drops the ball on a great story.

The film is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!