Based on the book by Joanna Molloy and John “Chickie” Donohue, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” tells the latter’s true story of a misguided delivery to an active international conflict where he learned, “Yes, Vietnam was bad.” We meet Chickie (a miscast Zac Efron) in New York City in 1967, aimless enough that his father gives him trouble sleeping and lacks motivation. He spends most of his time in the bar with his buddies, even though they see friends go to Vietnam and never come back. When one of his closest allies goes MIA, Chickie gets a crazy idea one drunken night – what if he brought a beer to all his friends? Just to show them that NYC still loves them? Egged on by other bar mates, including a proprietor played by a speech Bill Murray, Chickie decides to board a freighter bound for ‘Nam to find the guys. All he has to do is spend two months on a ship, find people he knows in a big country in the middle of a war, give them some words of encouragement and find his way back home. No problem, right?
Chickie fights with her sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) on the reaction at home to the war, arguing that protests diminish the sacrifice of the men on the ground. And he says directly to members of the press he meets in Vietnam, including one played by Russell Crowe by the name of Arthur Coates, that they only report the bad things from the war. He is there to bring some light to a dark situation and to remind the boys that they are supported. Of course, anyone who has seen the movie or read the book understands that Chickie is going to learn a harsh lesson about the truth of actual war while on his beer trip, and this is where Farrelly’s limited range as a filmmaker becomes a significant problem.
Someone says of Chickie, “Once in a while you come across a guy too stupid to kill.” It’s meant to be a humorous line, but it reveals the fundamental flaw of “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” in that Chickie is poorly written and played. He almost has to be one Hall Ashby character, someone pushed through the world in a way that reflects the kind of ignorance that often keeps people alive, but he’s instead outlined as a working-class hero, a heartfelt guy who’s more brave than stupid. It’s a tough sell. There is a far superior version of this film that is more comfortable mocking Chickie’s naivety rather than using it for heartfelt speeches about dying friends.