The Greatest Beer Run Ever

It’s 1967 in Inwood, NY and Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron), on leave from the Merchant Marines, bugs his dad by sleeping late after hanging out all night with buddies at Doc Fiddler’s bar while enraging his anti-war sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) with his pro-war stance.  With one friend after another coming home from Vietnam in a casket, Chickie decides there’s something he can do to support troops from the ‘hood and embarks on “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.”

Laura's Review: C+

Cowriter (with "Green Book's" Brian Hayes Currie and Project Greenlight's Pete Jones)/director Peter Farrelly certainly has his heart in the right place adapting the non-fiction novel this strange-but-true story is based on.  The coming-of-age of age of a NY meathead who goes off on a well-intentioned lark only to be schooled in a real world fog of war works on an emotional level even if the filmmaking itself is hit and miss.

Goaded on by his buddies at the bar and The Colonel (Bill Murray) who runs it (and provides him with the branded duffel bag stuffed with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon), Chickie boards a Merchant Marine ship bringing munitions to Vietnam and given 72 hours to complete ‘his mission’ after begging its doubting captain.  Armed with a list of four names, Chickie finds the first, Tom Collins (Archie Renaux, "Morbius"), so easily after disembarking he believes he’s in for an easy ride, but although Tom is happy to see him, he warns his friend against going further.

It is farther north in Quang Tri province that Chickie eyes begin to be opened.  Dressed in a short sleeved plaid shirt and khakis and sporting a 70’s ‘stache, Chickie is such an unusual sight, American military officers assume he is CIA, something Donohue goes along with as it provides easy access to bases and transport.  But when his commanding officer calls Rick Duggan (Jake Picking, "Top Gun: Maverick") in from ambush patrol for his ‘visitor,’ Chickie is shocked to be greeted with outrage, Duggan having just had to run through enemy fire in broad daylight for the beer he hadn’t asked for.  After spending a rainy night in a foxhole under enemy fire with his friend, Chickie’s quite ready to return to Saigon, but he ends up on a helicopter with a real CIA guy who he witnesses toss the North Vietnamese he’s just interrogated off the chopper.  When they land far from Saigon, Chickie realizes the CIA is on to him and goes on the run, miraculously running into one of his four friends, Kevin McLoone (Will Ropp, “The Way Back”), in a jeep headed right to where he’s run from and convinces him to turn around. 

The script is a little too neat with two Vietnamese Chickie meets, Hieu 'Oklahoma' (Kevin K. Tran), the friendly South Vietnamese traffic cop who wants to visit him in the States, and a little girl in the country who chases a ball in the road and regards him with sheer terror.  Some of the acting is strong, mostly notably Picking’s Duggan, but many supporting players (that Merchant Marine captain for one) come off amateurishly.  And while some scenes are well staged, like the climactic attack on the U.S. Embassy during the Tet Offensive, others, like the U.S. based war protest Chickie attacks, scream with artificiality.  Flashbacks to Chickie with his best friend Tommy Minogue (Will Hochman, "Master") are introduced awkwardly, but build for an emotional payoff when we realize the guilt Chickie feels for the loss, guilt assuaged by the deceased vet’s mom (Kristin Carey) in a lovely grace note.

Efron convinces of Chickie’s arc from shiftless indoctrinated patriot to disillusioned anti-war realist.  As Look photojournalist Arthur Coates, who Chickie meets in the bar of Saigon’s Caravelle Hotel, war journalist central, Russell Crowe is a gentle bear of a mentor, Chickie’s guide though his last war zone on the road home.  Farrelly avoids the usual usual wartime soundtrack choices for such picks as The Association’s ‘Cherish’ and Cream’s ‘I Feel Free.’

Robin's Review: B-

In 1967, after having more than a few beers with his buddies, John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron) announces his big plan for his other pals fighting in Vietnam. He is taking a duffel bag full of cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to the war zone and bring his friends a little taste of home in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.”

Peter Farley directs this adaptation, with Brian Hayes Murray and Peter Jones, of the real life story of Chickie and his vow to visit his buddies on the “front lines” to bring them word from home, support from the ‘hood and, especially, beer. The story begins at a local bar in the Inwood neighborhood on Manhattan.

The owner, the Colonel (Bill Murray), is incensed by all of the negative news against the Vietnam War, its veterans and the growing protests on the streets of America. One night, he announces that he has had it with all the negativity against our boys and wants to bring beers and support to them. Chickie, all revved up on beer and enthusiasm, declares that he, a merchant seaman, will do what the Colonel wants. This begins Chickie’s journey into the heart of darkness.

Now, the movie is “based on a true story” and Donohue did, in fact, make it to Vietnam and his friends. But, the filmmakers take many liberties with Chickie’s tale so you kind of have to squint your eyes to believe all the “facts” presented here. Things happen to Donohue in this journey that has to be contributed to literary license in storytelling and not reality. Still, it is an entertaining Homeric-type odyssey.

The fact that a guy named Chickie actually made the dangerous trip to bring his buddies beers is a story that must be told, The filmmakers have their hearts in the right place as we watch the flag-waving ex-marine make two journeys – one physical and the other spiritual and the arc that Efron gives his character is satisfying. The story takes him from one adventure to the next and the production fits its big-hearted tale.

When you actually think about it, Chickie’s stunt was bone-headed, dangerous to himself and his friends and something that should be both admired and criticized. It is a big-sized story, but you should also look into Chickie’s life after “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.”

Apple TV+ releases "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" in theaters and streaming on 9/30/22.