The first five minutes of Super Troopers are five of the funniest ever. Five years and four movies (if you count Dukes of Hazzard) later that’s still all Broken Lizard has to offer. Beerfest is their latest attempt to recapture those five minutes of glory, but it doesn’t so much recapture as jar them, mash them up into a paste, and then spread them paper thin over 110 minutes.
Thanks to incredible talents like Will Ferrell, Judd Apatow, Steve Carell, and Vince Vaughn Hollywood is in the midst of something of a comedic golden age. But what all of those guys have that collectively Broken Lizard doesn’t, is patience. Funny people know how to wait for the right moment. Ferrell will drag a joke out beyond reason, just to hit you with an unexpected, big laugh. Apatow’s movies build on character, layer after layer leading you down a road to a cacophony of surprise giggles. Vince Vaughn just starts riffing, pulling gag after gag in a long litany of rambling improv that might or might not go right over his audience’s head.
Broken Lizard’s boys can’t do any of that. They get itchy trying to get to the joke, and in the process end up either settling for something quicker and easier, or simply blowing it by over-explaining where it is that they’re trying to go. When they get a comedic itch, they’ve got to scratch. So when Kevin Heffernan’s “Landfill” confronts Mo’Nique in a fat body battle royale, the result is a scene that goes straight to the easiest joke: Another over-the-top fight scene full of cartoony violence and the same gags you’ve seen the other dozen or so times this bit has been done in other equally unfunny movies released in the first half of this year. Yes, Heffernan gets kicked in the balls. Then again, this is a movie about competitive binge drinking, so what else should we expect?
On paper, the plot’s pretty straightforward. It’s the story of two brothers sent to Oktoberfest to scatter their deceased drunken grandpa’s ashes in the place that he loved. While there, they’re sucked into a secret, underground competition called “Beerfest”. The film’s official synopsis describes “Beerfest” as a drinking game version of “Fight Club”, and I guess that’s pretty apt if you consider punching guys in the face incredibly lame. The competition involves a lot of rather goofy events. For instance, the festival culminates in a game of ping pong. Unless you’re Asian there’s just nothing cool about hitting a cute little white sphere with tiny paddle, drunk or not.
On paper the plot’s simple, but in practice it’s kind of a mess. The movie jumps back and forth between America and Germany, never really settling in to any particular rhythm. The two brothers stuck serving as main characters are total stiffs, and are quickly overshadowed by their more interesting teammates. Since they’re supposed to be the story, the point of what’s going on eventually becomes lost.
Sometimes sheer madness works though, and the best way to judge a comedy isn’t by overanalyzing its structural flaws, but by sitting there and seeing how much it makes you laugh. Depending on the circumstances, Beerfest might deliver in that respect. The movie’s hard “R” rating makes it perfect fodder for bachelor parties or group viewing in a sports bar. Make a drinking game out of every time you see a pair of gratuitously displayed, bare breasts. If you’re drunk and hanging out with you’re buddies, there’s a good chance that Beerfest will give you belly-laugh flop sweats. Of course under those circumstances so will “Dancing with the Stars”, and you can get that for free if you’ve got a good pair of rabbit ears (or maybe even a bad wad of tinfoil) stuck on your television.
Beerfest has a few moments. Kevin Heffernan, as he was in Sky High, is a scene stealer. Jay Chandrasekhar (who also directs) is genius as a retired male hooker. Toss out the other characters and focus on those two wandering around in an alcohol induced stupor and you might have something. Maybe even a modern day Strange Brew. Otherwise, this ode to the mass consumption of tasty brews is out of bubbles. Drink up before you see it, you’ll need the buzz.