This third purported comedy from the Canadian group Broken Lizard, following “Super Troopers” and “Club Dread,” is nothing to celebrate. “Beerfest” is a loud, boozy bust.
It’s basically a takeoff on sports movies, pitting an American team of beer-swillers against their arrogant, dismissive German relatives. The U.S. contingent is put together by brothers Jan and Todd Wolfhouse (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske), who are enlisted by their beloved great-grandmother (Cloris Leachman) to return the ashes of her son (Donald Sutherland) to the motherland, only to be insulted by the Baron von Wolfhausen (Jurgen Prochnow) and his Beerfest team (including Will Forte, Ralf Moeller and Eric Christian Olsen), who accuse the boys’ grandfather of having stolen the family’s beer recipe before fleeing to America. Once back in the U.S., the boys enlist old buddies Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar), Landfill (Kevin Heffernan) and Fink (Steve Lemme) to fill their roster. All are “characters” of one sort or another–Barry a dissolute wreck now a hustler, Landfill a huge, John Candy type specializing in eating contests, and Fink a scientist whose main job consists of servicing frogs (more detailed information is unnecessary). The five lugs train for a full year, and though there are difficulties that include a spy named Cherry (Mo’Nique) and a very slight change in personnel, the team eventually goes off to Germany for the guzzling contest and….
Well, does it really matter how exactly it turns out? After all, the so-called plot is merely a slender thread on which to string a collection of gags that vary from bawdy to gross and dumb to dumber. There will be some who find the mix of raunchiness and blissful stupidity to be amusing, but as with Lizard’s two previous efforts, most viewers are liable to find it pretty unsavory. This is the sort of comedy that leaves you feeling vaguely unclean, as though you’d touched something you’d rather not have. Perhaps it would help if your senses were dulled; a good stuff drink beforehand would not be amiss.
One certainly must hope that Leachman and Sutherland were fortified with some strong spirits before coming on the set and doing their scenes. But in all fairness it has to be admitted that both have embarrassed themselves in the past, so the humiliation here shouldn’t be new to them. As for the members of the Broken Lizard troupe, they seem incapable of feeling shame; after all, they wrote this stuff themselves, and appear to have no compunction in performing it–without a shred of style or comic grace, it must be said. The various nationalities represented at Beerfest are treated with the easygoing contempt characteristic of this sort of frat-boy attitude, but the worst is certainly reserved for that German team, all of whose members resemble the old “We’ll pump you up!” Schwarzenegger-inspired goofballs that used to appear on Saturday Night Live. In fact, one of them is played by a current SNL cast member, Forte, who’s much funnier in his brief turns on NBC than he is here. The buxom Mo’Nique, who seems to be turning up entirely too frequently in movies of late, once again evinces no particular aptitude for the medium.
“Beerfest” is clunkily directed by Chandrasekhar, whose rudimentary knowledge of composition and pacing doesn’t appear to have improved over the years, and on the technical level it’s strictly ordinary. There is, however, one good running gag–though only one–in the movie. That’s the takeoff on villain Prochnow’s signature role in Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot.” It’s involved in the culminating contest between the two beer-swilling teams, when they must literally quaff the brew from huge glass boots, but also made the centerpiece of a rather labored bit when the baron and his goofy boys manage a trip to the U.S. in a submarine (somehow making their way inland in it, it would seem) and Prochnow mutters a line about once having had a bad experience in such a vessel. Juvenile, to be sure, but far superior to anything else that passes for humor in “Beerfest,” and in retrospect the poor captain’s miseries in Petersen’s picture were nothing beside the indignity Prochnow endures in this one. This is a bad brew.