Reel Opinions

Friday, August 25, 2006


When it comes to intentionally stupid and crude comedies, Beerfest has one heck of a concept. Too bad it's backed up by one lousy screenplay. Mysteriously popular Canadian comedy group, Broken Lizard (who shot to fame a couple years ago with their debut film, Super Troopers), once again prove that they have no idea what they're doing when it comes to comedy. Oh sure, they have some great ideas, and there are a couple of good gags scattered about the film, but the movie aims too low in its low brow humor, and the timing is completely off. Director and co-star Jay Chandrasekhar (last year's Dukes of Hazzard movie) and the rest of the cast seem to be having a great time up there on the screen, but we're left feeling like the only way we could be having that much fun is if we were as drunk as their characters are.

Beerfest takes Fight Club and just about every sports movie cliche for its inspiration, and views it through a pair of beer goggles. The action kicks off when American brothers Jan (Paul Soter) and Todd Wolfhouse (Erik Stolhanske) are sent to Germany to spread the ashes of their recently departed German grandfather (Donald Sutherland in an embarrassing cameo) in a "sacred family place". The sacred place turns out to be an underground beer drinking competition that is held every year called Beerfest, where the best drinkers the world over compete in a series of increasingly stupid Olympic-style chug games. It turns out their beloved grandfather is notorious on this side of the world for past misdeeds, and the two brothers are ridiculed and humiliated by the undefeated German drinking team. With the sting of defeat fresh in their minds, Jan and Todd are determined to defeat the Germans and restore their family name when the next competition rolls around. They have one year to form a crack team of beer guzzlers, and enter the competition as the USA Team. The team of misfits includes a nerdy scientist with a certain unhealthy scientific interest in frogs (Steve Lemme), an overweight eating competition champion (Kevin Heffernan), and a former drinking game master turned male prostitute (Jay Chandrasekhar).

Beerfest is a sports parody movie for people who thought previous intentionally stupid sports parody films like Dodgeball and Baseketball were too intelligent and slow for their tastes. Once it gets a pesky disclaimer out of the way at the very beginning, warning the audience not to try the kind of stuff the characters do in this movie, Beerfest pretty much becomes an endless series of rapid fire gags that revolve around public drunkenness and every part of the human body being violated in some way, shape, or form. In a way, I somewhat admired the uncontrolled anarchy of the film. I liked the premise, and there are a couple good gags scattered about the film. There are some funny jabs at movie cliches (a main character dies, only to be replaced by his twin brother who suddenly shows up, and is played by the same actor), and one or two gross out gags that made me chuckle despite how juvenile I knew they were. I also liked veteran comic actress, Cloris Leachman, as the grandmother of the two main characters who has a not-so secret past of being a prostitute. The complements end here, however, as the rest of Beerfest just doesn't measure up no matter how much you lower your expectations.

Even though Mr. Chandrasekhar has directed all of Broken Lizard's past films, his directing style still looks like that of an amateur. He has no sense of pacing or timing, which is murder for a comedy that relies on rapid fire gags for its laughs. Some of the jokes seem to be dragged out long after we get the point and stop laughing (like a scene where Chandrasekhar's character hits on a woman in a bar while he's drunk), and there are others that don't even bother to give us a proper pay off. For example, at one point, the guys learn that the championship German team train themselves for the big game by drinking the urine of a ram. (Don't ask.) The guys decide to try this tactic, and the movie shows them chasing down a ram. Afterward, the film cuts to them chugging mugs full of urine, only to make disgusted faces at each other, and then moves on to the next scene. In order for the scene to work, we need a gag to go along with it. The sight alone of seeing these guys drinking urine isn't funny, there needs to be more. A good gross out comedy would have built upon this idea, and given us more than just having the actors mugging at each other in disgust. Even juvenile humor has standards, and the humor found throughout Beerfest is so below par it almost borders on being pathetic.

As mentioned earlier, the cast of this film (made up of the Broken Lizard comedy group and one or two Saturday Night Live veterans) seem to be having a grand old time. But then, why shouldn't they? They were given permission by a major studio to do a movie where they do nothing but hang out with friends, drink beer, and do stupid pratfalls and gross out jokes. They were probably laughing all the way to the bank. I'm sure they got more laughs when the studio greenlighted this idea than there are actually found in the movie itself. There are a couple of lines that made me crack a smile, but most of the jokes are an embarrassing collection of scenes where the guys act up under the influence of alcohol. They're not allowed to do anything actually funny, we're just supposed to laugh at their drunken antics and continuous thunder belches that are so loud I think the walls of the theater actually shook once. I have no problem seeing the Broken Lizard guys giving bad or unfunny performances, but seeing Donald Sutherland's performance in this film just plain made me mad. I've always had a soft spot for the guy, but the second he started talking in that awful attempt at a German accent, I just shook my head. I don't care if this movie's a comedy, there's no excuse for an actor who has done some respectable work to give a performance that bad. With An American Haunting and now this, Sutherland's really having a rough 2006.

While not a complete failure, Beerfest simply does not have the laughs to go with its concept. And, much like Talladega Nights, the film suffers from an overlong running time that could have easily been remedied in the editing room. I'm sorry, but if your film's plot revolves around nothing but five guys binge drinking for a year, it does not need to run for almost two hours. There's hardly enough genuine laughs to hold a half hour short film. If you really need to see this movie, I would suggest waiting for the DVD, as I'm sure it will be a lot better with the alcoholic beverage featured so prominently throughout. Or, better yet, track down a copy of Strange Brew, still the best beer-themed comedy out there. Beerfest is a bitter comedy brew that does not go down easy, and kind of leaves you feeling queasy when it's all done.

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