August 27, 2006

Movie Review: Beerfest

I love being in a theater where everyone is excited to see the movie. I love the infectious enthusiasm that can come from a room full of like minded people. That type of environment can greatly enhance the theatrical experience. Case in point, Snakes on a Plane is a great example of a fun time at the multiplex, everyone new what they were getting into and new the movie would be a blast. But, and there is always a but, infectious enthusiasm and idiots in the theater are co0mpletely different things. The crowd for the screening of Beerfest that I attended was full of the worst kind of folks. They were just flat out obnoxious, which did not help the film, it just made me sad.

The crowd aside, the movie was mediocre at best. The laughs were either very funny or very lame, there was not much in between. On top of that, the movie was much too long, for a goofball comedy about drinking beer to be nearing the 2 hour mark, there has to be some filler, or in this case, perhaps a bit of foam.

The story, what there is of it, follows the Wolfhouse brothers, Jan and Todd. Their grandfather (Donald Sutherland) has just passed away, leaving them the Germany themed bar and restaurant. Their Great Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman) charges the boys with taking his ashes to Germany to scatter over the traditional lands.

This seemingly simple task leads to a journey into the underworld of beer drinking and a conspiracy that could shake the very foundations of their family. They are led into a top secret drinking competition, where the first rule is: "Never talk about Beerfest." Not really, but you aren't likely to be believed if you did. The competition is presided over by Jurgen Prochnow, playing another member of the Wolfhouse clan. This reopens old wounds between the German family and Sutherland who fled to America with a stolen beer recipe. This leads to the brothers seeking to enter and win the competition.

After they are embarrassed in their initial outing, they are determined to put together a drinking team and practice hard to return the following year and beat the pants off the Germans. They gather up Landfill (Kevin Heffernan), so named because he can put away just about anything, Fink (Steve Lemme), a Jewish scientist who has studied the science of drinking, and Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar), an old friend turned prostitute who is a master of drinking games. They gather in a back room of the restaurant where they drink and drink, and drink some more.

This training sequence makes up the bulk of the movie, and it just seems to drag on and on. They go through the motions of failing on their own, finding help to train them, revelations about the guys come out that threaten to tear them apart before they even get back to Germany. In true sports movie fashion, our heroes overcome and battle through all of the opening rounds to face off with the Germans.

Beerfest is moderately funny. There are some very big laughs, followed by some where you are left scratching your head. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but it seems like Broken Lizard tried to go too big. This is a sports movie disguised in frat boy trappings, but never really seems to reconcile one with the other. Supertroopers worked much better due to the smaller scope and more straightforward story, even Club Dread was better as a movie, not exactly funnier, but the story meshed better than it did here.

I don't want to get into to many specifics, for fear of ruining the best bits for you. There were some unexpected moments of hilarity, and Cloris Leachman was perfect as Gam Gam. I also liked the sports movie structure, and even a bit of Hostel thrown in. There is no denying that these guys have a good bit of cleverness between them, but they could use someone who could hone it more into a more focused film, like the Zucker films from the 1980s.

Bottomline. Funny movie, but not as funny as I had hoped. It is hurt by an overlong running time. Some more time in the editing room may have done wonders. I do look forward to what these guys do next, and that may be the best praise I can give them. Also, maybe if they used some of those excised bits from the trailers.

Mildly Recommended.
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