Zac Efron has had such a wild career. Starting out as the heartthrob in High School Musical and its sequels, Efron has struggled to find his lane in Hollywood later. He’s been the beefcake in films like Baywatch and Bad Neighbours and the romantic lead in The Greatest Showman, but his brand feels elusive and there’s been a distinct feel that he’s capable of more than what he’s been offered.
Which is why The Greatest Beer Run Ever, Peter Farrelly’s AppleTV+ drama, feels like it’s designed to be a turning point. After this year’s disastrous and dull Firestarter, The Greatest Beer Run Ever allows Efron to give a more varied performance in a film that never matches his talent.
Efron plays John ‘Chickie’ Donohue, a happy-go-lucky guy from New York in 1967. After a dare, a joke even, Dickie ends up delivering beers to kids from his neighbourhood who are fighting in the Vietnam War. This might sound impossibly stupid and something that would require the utmost amount of suspension of disbelief, but The Greatest Beer Run Ever is based on real events.
Farrelly’s film is a film of two parts. The first half is largely comic as Chickie slowly comes to realise just how difficult it will be to reach his friends in Vietnam, although getting on a ship to Nam is relatively easy. Chickie then relies on dumb luck and hustles his way through literally all of Vietnam.
The first half is simpler, but weaker. Things really kick off in the second half, when it dawns on Chickie just how dangerous his mission is. He is faced with real danger and death that so far has been a concept he’s heard of but not fully encountered. Unfortunately the second half is bogged down by the introduction of Russell Crowe’s photojournalist, who is mostly there to spell out the obvious; war is a dangerous game.
Farrelly’s previous film, The Green Book, has gone down in history as a problematic white saviour film in which a bullish white guy teaches a Black man about his own culture. While The Greatest Beer Run Ever is far less ambitious and entertaining, it also seems to somewhat erase the Vietnamese trauma from its film. Sure, a film has to pick its battles and can only focus on so many themes, but this makes The Greatest Beer Run Ever seem awfully simplistic and naive.
Efron does give it his all though. Chickie is a fascinating character – a man out of his depth in the middle of the war, just so he can have a beer with his mates – and Efron plays him relatively straight, but with something constantly bubbling under the surface. The film plays Chickie as an underachiever, but he was a Navy Marine who had active duty under his belt and while it’s mentioned in the beginning, it’s quickly brushed under a rug in order to create a more dramatic narrative about a loser going to Vietnam with a bag full of beer.
Ultimately, The Greatest Beer Run Ever leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. It doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about the war and offers a surface-level exploration of the character of Chickie. Appearances from Crowe and Bill Murray are distracting and relatively pointless. There’s a great story and a good movie somewhere in The Greatest Beer Run Ever, but Farrelly just hasn’t found it.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever is in cinemas and streaming on AppleTV+ now.