Forget about all the praise being heaped on Snakes on a Plane for having one of those original titles that pretty much spells out the entire concept for you (notable others include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Debbie Does Dallas). Beerfest is as simple as they come: It’s about a beer festival/competition. That takes care of 95 percent of the plot. Add to that the fact that the film springs from the minds and pens of comedy troupe Broken Lizard, who also gave us Super Troopers, and you can fill in the other 5 percent yourself: belching, fart jokes, blue humor, and breasts. It’s a simple recipe that hasn’t changed much in the five years since Super Troopers was released, and I’m pleased to report that Beerfest offers just as many laughs as the old film, along with another healthy dose of self-awareness. The film might look like another sports(ish) comedy, but these guys don’t take themselves seriously for a second. Directed by Broken Lizard’s own Jay Chandrasekhar, it’s about as much fun as you can have at a movie.
Brothers Jan (Paul Soter) and Todd (Erik Stolhanske) run a German tavern in Colorado with their great-grandmother, Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman). When their grandfather (Donald Sutherland) dies, the boys are sent to Munich to sprinkle his ashes over Oktoberfest, and Jan and Todd aren’t there five minutes before (a) they’re piss-drunk in a tent full of festival-goers, (b) at least three women lose their tops, and (c) they cause a slapstick series of events that wrecks the tent and incurs the wrath of Baron Wolfgang von Wolfhausen (Jurgen Prochnow). The brothers are rescued by a family friend, who escorts them through the darkened Bavarian streets to a rotted old warehouse that’s home to a secret underground competition known as Beerfest, where there’s even more alcohol and topless women (this has to be a record for most exposed breasts in such a small amount of time in a non-porn film). The Beerfest competition pits five-man teams from various countries in feats of drinking games: quarters, chugging, beer pong, etc. It’s in the initial Beerfest sequence that the shaky screenplay finally finds its legs: This is what we’ve been waiting for, and Chandrasekhar knows it. The throbbing crowd and insane games pulse with an energy that’s been lacking so far. Beerfest clearly had a greater budget than did Super Troopers, thanks in part to Chandrasekhar’s shrewd deal that requires him to go slumming in order to get funds for Broken Lizard pics. Super Troopers, out of necessity, traded on a scaled-down version of the off-the-wall humor that finally gets a chance to stretch its legs in Beerfest. Chandrasekhar, who also directed a few episodes of “Arrested Development,” has a knack for timing and pace, as well as the skill to bring the film up to the level demanded by its scale. It could have felt cheaply done, but it doesn’t.
Anyway: The boys run afoul of the German squad, led by the baron, whose strapping team members dominate the competition by winning Das Boot, a game where players chug from a giant glass boot. (I’m sure Prochnow was cast for that reason alone.) Todd and Jan realize that Beerfest is the actual event where their grandfather wanted to be interred, but before they can do anything about it, the baron mocks Todd and Jan as poseurs and sends them back home, where they resolve to form a team and compete in the next year’s Beerfest.
From there it’s just a matter of introducing the rest of the Broken Lizard gang and letting the pieces fall into place. There’s Landfill (Kevin Heffernan), a competitive-eating champion; Steve “Fink” Finklestein (Steve Lemme), a doctor; and Barry (Chandrasekhar), who used to be the best beer-games guy around but who’s fallen on hard times and now works as a gigolo underneath a highway overpass. And I have to hand it to these guys: They look like they’re having more fun onscreen than any group since Ron Burgundy and company. The jokes come fast and furious, and more than once the camera cuts away an instant before one actor’s improvisations send the rest into hysterics. They spend the next several months training for the games, which means a lot of drinking. Along the way, there’s an attempt made to flesh out the superficial plot with a squabble over an ancient beer recipe that’s fallen into the wrong hands, as well as Todd and Jan’s brewing heritage, but even the nods to convention are skewered by the filmmakers: When one of the main characters dies, his twin brother steps in as a replacement, even requesting to be called by his deceased brother’s name as a way of “honoring” him. “It’ll be like we never lost him at all!” exclaims the group. It’s a perfect defiance of every rule these guys never plan on following.
The team returns to Beerfest to face off against the German team, and things go pretty much as you’d expect they would. Is it a smart movie? By no means. Is it stupid? More than a little. But it’s hilarious, and inane, and so damn fun you stop caring that it’s the kind of movie with an entire sequence built around a drunk Chandrasekhar getting his swerve on with Mo’Nique. It’s a mighty entertaining comedy, and that’s all that matters. Pass the
maple syrupbrew: It’s time to chug.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.You're Pretty When I'm Drunk
Film | August 29, 2006 | Comments ()