While America’s involvement in the Vietnam War remains controversial, films like The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and Ken Burns’ documentary, have reflected on the conflict’s psychological aspects. So The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a refreshingly entertaining comedic drama, focusing on a crowd-pleasing, behind-the-scenes glimpse of a globe-spanning beer run.
After a stint in the Merchant Marine, John ”Chickie” Donahue (Zac Efron) retreated to his family’s home in the close-knit , Irish-American community of Inwood in northern Manhattan, where he spent most of his time drinking and carousing at a local pub.
One night in 1967, the patriotic bartender, known as The Colonel (Bill Murray), said, “Somebody ought to go over to ‘Nam, track down our boys from the neighborhood, and bring them a beer.” Reckless Chickie immediately volunteered to make the journey, much to the chagrin of his sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) who marched with anti-war protesters.
Using his seaman’s credentials and toting a duffle bag full of Pabst Blue Ribbon brew, he optimistically hopped on a cargo ship bound for Vietnam. After two months at sea, he self-confidently wangled a three-day pass to find his buddies. Because an idiotic officer (wide-eyed Matt Cook) mistook him for an undercover CIA agent, Chickie was able to get military transport – which landed him in the war zone.
“What the hell are you doing here?” blurted one of his buddies. “You don’t have to be here – and you’re here!” Shortly afterwards, as shell-shocked Chickie realized the State Dept. had lied about winning the war, his naïve attitude changed.
But when his ship left port earlier than expected, Chickie was stranded. Hoping for help, he turned to the U.S. Embassy just as the Viet Cong attacked Saigon, launching the Tet Offensive. That’s when a cynical, yet empathetic war correspondent (Russell Crowe) tossed Chickie a camera and told him to pretend he was Press.
Based on The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War by John “Chick” Donahue and J.T. Molloy, it’s adapted with rollicking respect by Brian Currie, Pete Jones and director Peter Farrelly (The Green Book), who delicately navigate the moral and political turmoil.
One particularly memorable interlude has Chickie befriending a Saigon traffic cop (Kevin K. Tran), who hopes someday to visit Oklahoma because he enjoyed the musical. And credit scenes show the real Chickie and his four friends – now old men – still celebrating his beer run.
Full disclosure: My son, Don Granger, is one of the film’s producers.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Greatest Beer Run is a charming, satisfying 7, opening in select theaters on Sept. 23rd and streaming on Apple TV+ starting September 30th.