Zac Efron’s Vietnam War movie is hit and miss


Warning: this article contains spoilers.

It should come as no surprise “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” directed by Peter Farrelly, features booze from the jump. The film opens on a boyish freeloader John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron) hoisting two huge party pitchers into the air.

A selection from the Toronto International Film Festival, the film, set in 1967, premiered on Apple TV+ on 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 demonstrators, led by his sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) – a scene that 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 ship 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-satisfaction, mocking his sister for honoring the deaths of lost Americans, while insisting that her infamous beer run is more patriotic than any protest.

For those who truly serve their country, Donohue’s actions are irritating and selfish. Almost every friend he finds lambastes him for sneaking into a war zone he knows nothing about. His arc is a clumsy journey to realize that war isn’t as simple as he and his drinking buddies suspect.

Donohue also condemns a group of foreign journalists for their authentic coverage of the Vietnam War – until he witnessed the violence and death firsthand. It takes an admirable performance of Russell Croweit is middle-aged reporter at Ground Donohue, whose stubbornness is juxtaposed with the former’s grim maturity.

Described by one soldier as “too stupid to kill,” Donohue is fueled by his own immaturity, luck, and probably more alcohol than the film explicitly shows. He faces far fewer obstacles than he should in his quest in Vietnam, as military personnel conveniently mistake him for the CIA and help him reach his next step time and time again.

Although 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. A soldier goes so far as to disobey his commanding officer’s direct orders to drive Donohue to his desired location simply because the two played CYO basketball together in elementary school.

The film’s messages about the Vietnam War are banal and devoid of any real substance. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” has little focus on the Vietnamese perspective on the war, except for a few seconds of screen time for a terrified Vietnamese child being carried to safety by her mother and a few scenes featuring an officer friendly Vietnamese who Donohue nicknames “Oklahoma.”

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

The film is entertaining and offers more comic relief than most of its genre, but suffers from an unsatisfactory propensity for almost satirical ridicule.

Contemporary cinema has seen recent biopics, like Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of The Chicago 7” tackles the Vietnam War with nuance. “The Greatest Beer Race Ever” doesn’t.

The concept of people like Donohue going out of their way to support a cause they don’t really understand is an interesting development. But, by the time this Efron movie gets to even a mere glimpse of what could have been, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” runs out.

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Twitter: @andresbuena01

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