Cinematic Releases: The Greatest Beer Run Ever (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Apple Original Films
In November 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War, former US Marine John “Chickie” Donohue who also worked as a merchant seamen ventured into Vietnam on a four-month journey through the war-torn country to deliver cans of beer to several enlistees from his block as a sign of support.  The chivalrous but dangerous personal mission undertaken by Chickie proved to be an enriching and eye-opening experience for the man who at one point partook in the Battle of Khe Sanh and later still got ensnared in the Tet Offensive where he was stranded for almost another year fighting for survival and a way out until hitching a merchant ship out to New York in late 1968.
Years later Chickie and co-author J.T. Molloy turned the beer runner’s near-death experiences delivering alcohol inside a war zone into a memoir called The Greatest Beer Run Ever that became a New York Times bestseller in a tale that’s as funny as it is scary and sorrowful.  
Now here is Green Book director Peter Farrelly’s big screen dramatization of that treacherous but noble journey made by Chickie starring Zac Efron in the titular role of this Skydance/AppleTV+ original film that’s simultaneously going to theaters and the streaming service.  Co-starring Bill Murray and Russell Crowe, the film is a period dramedy of sorts that captures the funny and frightening essence of Chickie’s memoir.

Partially a booze movie about the camaraderie of sharing a beer with a friend or companion, partially a Vietnam War drama, the film eventually meets up with photojournalist Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe) who is at once delighted by Chickie’s kind if not foolhardy gesture and angered the youth doesn’t really know the gravity of what he’s immersing himself into.  

Lensed handsomely by Green Book (and Green Room) cinematographer Sean Porter, the film is an adequately lensed period piece that does a good job of differentiating 1960s American protest grounds and liquor bars from those within Saigon on the cusp of the Tet Offensive.  The score by Dave Palmer, a musician for the Red Faction games, delivers an energizing soundtrack that flirts with comedy, drama and action thriller in between the film’s selection of preexisting tracks
Zac Efron is a good actor who is tasked with being both a funny man and engage in tense physical acting such as running through battlefields and besieged cities on fire just trying to give some beer to his friends.  Over the course of the movie, Efron’s chipper all-American smiling demeanor erodes away as he is exposed to more and more atrocities and hypocrisies within the war.  

Russell Crowe is dependably rough and ragged, playing a tough photojournalist who has been around the block and through Vietnam enough times to know where to hide and seek during bombing raids.  Bill Murray is generally good in what’s a glorified cameo, but most of the rest of the young cast consists of enlistees caught in the middle of a terrible situation. 
War film buffs and history buffs will at once be elated at this story playing out onscreen to inform viewers everywhere of this death-defying tale while others will find the oversimplification of the events and motivations a bit trying.  Told with the straightforwardness of a Clint Eastwood picture where any and every point Peter Farrelly wants to make with Chickie’s experiences are received in full the first time around, The Greatest Beer Run Ever at times runs the risk of feeling like a television film bumped up to theatrical release.  

At any rate, while critics seem to have their teeth out for the newest effort from the Green Book director, The Greatest Beer Run Ever nevertheless represents a worthwhile story of a man who tried for better or worse to help soothe the hearts and minds of his compatriots.  Its a good beer movie even if the cold brews may have gotten a bit warm on the way.

--Andrew Kotwicki