A film review by Craig J. Koban
2006, R, 110 mins.
Todd Wolfhouse: Erik Stolhanske / Jan Wolfhouse: Paul Soter / Barry: Jay Chandrasekhar / Steve: Steve Lemme / Phil Krundle: Kevin Heffernan / Herr Referee: Philippe Brenninkmeyer / Ulsa: Simona Fusco / Inga: Jessica Williams
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar / Written by Broken Lizard
BEERFEST begins by flashing a title card that tells the audience to not digest as much alcohol as the characters in the film. The reason is simple: you will die.
Funny? Yes, but there is a small kernel of truth here. If any able bodied person gorged on the limitless amounts of beer that the oddballs in the film do, then an emergency room visit would surely be in their future.
I surely developed alcohol poisoning just watching one scene where two characters tried to chug what looks like several liters of beer out of a glass, knee-high boot. Yet, this film is smart about its alcohol intake. As a matter of fact, a scientist is hired in order to discover whether applying the rules of physics may assist one in drinking beer out of a boot. It’s all in the air pocket that forms at the tip of it. Gee, I never would have thought that a film called BEERFEST could have some modest educational content.
Don’t worry, folks; the learning stops there. Why? Well, maybe because this is the third major film from the comedic troupe known as BROKEN LIZARD, who exploded on the silver screen a few years ago with the ridiculously wacky, crude, and…yes…funny SUPER TROOPERS. As a lampooning work that focused on highway state patrol officers, Broken Lizard hit many of the right comic notes. Many scenes from the film were unmitigated slapstick classics. I especially liked one moment in the film where on highway patrolman wagers with another as to how many times the other can say “meow” to a speeder they pull over without him noticing. Also memorable was a scene where all of the officers engage in a maple syrup chugging contest, where the veteran officer gives the rookie some much needed advice. “If ya want to succeed at this,” he says, “you gotta relax your throat more.” Oh, and one word alone still inspires endless giggles. Ramrod.
After their sure-fire success in SUPER TROOPERS in 2001 I had very little doubts that the troupe were poised for comedic superstardom. After all, at the time there were few comedies that made me laugh as hard as SUPER TROOPERS did. I guess it was with great reluctance and sheer disappointment that I put their next effort, CLUB DREAD, high on my list for 2004’s worst stinkers. That film was a comic mess that sought to inspire a lot of satiric jabs at teen slasher flicks, like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Yes, the film had a few moments here and there that garnered small chuckles, but CLUB DREAD was a real missed opportunity for the promising troupe. More than anything, it made me yearn for Broken Lizard to return to the heights they achieved with TROOPERS. At the time, I wanted them to make a consistent sidesplitting film right meow, not later.
BEERFEST is sort of a mixed blessing, in pure hindsight. It is twice the film that CLUB DREAD was and definitely has a laugh quotient that obliterates it. However funny BEERFEST is in small portions, I still felt – by the time the credits rolled by – that I was only getting a comedic appetizer and not a hilarious full course meal. The real problem with BEERFEST is not that’s its unfunny, or too silly, or too sugarcoated and sanitized with its humor. More than ever, the film demonstrates Broken Lizard’s keen and astute eye for doing anything possible (and vulgar and rough) to get a laugh. BEERFEST, for its entire 110 minute running time, is refreshingly and unapologetically a hard-R rated comedy with enough beer drinking, bare breasts exposed and giggling, gratuitous sex, and frog masturbation (trust me) to deservedly receive it’s adult rating by the MPAA. Also, the tone is pure farce and is played broadly to the point of entertaining overkill, so labeling the film as sophomoric and inane misses the point. Silly films can be funny, people.
No, the main problem with this effort on Lizard's part is that it’s just too mournfully uneven for its own good. SUPER TROOPERS had its negligible moments, but the sum of its many uproarious moments made up for a few of its languishing ones. BEERFEST works kind of in the opposite manner. The film has some truly inspire scenes of outrageous shenanigans that deserves worthy comparisons with the best work of Monty Python, but it’s the journey towards those bawdy and irreverent moments that drowns the film.
BEERFEST’S most egregious error is that it simply does not have enough genuine laughs to spread out over the course of its unusually long running time. More than ever, the film just felt more like a series of unrelenting and intermittently cheeky sketch comedy skits than it did a feature film. Broken Lizard are funny, but - as they demonstrate in this film - they only work in humble dosages. When Lizard is on top of their game, just about no one else is funnier. Yet, too many of their scenes just fall lethargically, like a pitiful moment when Oscar winner Cloris Leachman fondles a long sausage. Hardy-har-har.
The basic plot of the film is simple (and has a very strong resemblance to a similar comedy, DODGEBALL). Two American brothers Todd and Jan (Broken Lizard member 1 and 2, (Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter) are sent to Germany to spread the ashes of the grandfather at Oktoberfest. Alas, they soon discover a centuries-old secret. Alongside the regular festival is a clandestine festival of sorts that has been going on since…well…beer has been brewed to guzzle. It is an underground drinking Olympics known as “Beerfest.” Obviously, the two young Americans – who love a good beer as much as an other red blooded Yankee – entire the scene with a wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Things go south real fast for the men when they met their German cousins, the Wolfhausens, who all seem to have been carved off of the stereotypical German caricature tree. To make them even more of a threat, the film paints them as the ultimate bad guys, especially when they speak poorly of the Todd and Jan's beloved dead grandfather and make some accusations about their grandmother (Leachmen) that most men would never want to hear about in reference to their grandmother. To make matters ever direr, the German clan mops the floor with them at a short drink off, and the two men come back to America with their tails between their legs.
However, the two pick themselves up and, with a Balboaian fit of determination and desire, they make it their mission to train over the course of the next year to battle their despicable German cousins at next year’s Beerfest. They aspire to reclaim their honor as the world’s finest beer drinkers, not to mention to clear their grandmother’s reputation. It’s one thing when Germans beat you at beer drinking, it’s another thing when they call your sweet, grey haired old granny a whore.
In order to secure ultimate comeuppance and moral victory, the two decide to search out for all of their past friends who could give them the winning edge. First, they hook back up with Fink (Broken Lizard member number 2, Steve Lemme), who has the scientific knowledge that could assist them with finding advanced ways of chugging faster and harder. Then, they snag up a real beer guzzler in Landfill (Lizard number 4, the very funny Kevin Heffernan) and finally are able to secure the services of the very troubled Barry Badrinath (arguably the funniest of the troupe, Jay Chandrasekhar, also the director of the film). Barry is – for the most part – the least likely person to help win a beer-drinking contest. When he is found he's working as a street hustler that will perform all things phallic for a matter of a couple of bucks. Oh, he just may be the best coin tosser in the world.
The middle section of the film is arguably the funniest, where the boys all try to gather up all of their collective intestinal fortitude to train over the course of the next 12 months. Some of their methods are unorthodox, to say the least, like drinking the urine of animals (let’s face it, if you can drink that in heavy dosages, then you can drink as much beer as possible). However, the team is fraught with problems all along the way, such as the nagging dilemma of how to secure a victory at the contest’s final match, "Das Boot", which involves drinking out of a lady’s glass boot. To hammer home the satire even further down our throats, Lizard was able to secure German actor Jurgen Prochnow as the evil Baron Wolfgang von Wolfhausen. You may remember him when he was in masterpieces like Wolfgang Peterson’s DAS BOOT long before he sold his soul to the devil to appear in films like JUDGE DRED, WING COMMANDER, and the abortive TV docudrama SEE ARNOLD RUN, where he gave an embarrassing turn as Arnold Schwarzenegger running for the Governorship of Kah-e-fornia. Prochnow’s horrendously unfunny performance in BEERFEST is like a nail in his dramatic coffin.
If Prochnow was bad, then baring witness to Cloris Leachman’s horrific German accent for nearly two hours made me want to lapse into an inebriated coma. In between all of the lame accents, lousy stereotypes, ethnic jokes and slanderous material that picks apart just about everyone, and a hell of a lot of beer drinking, the only thing left to recommend the film of is…I guess…Broken Lizard themselves. As shameless and carefree purveyors of sleaze and overall debauchery, Lizard somewhat delivers to their hardcore fan base. In an age when comedies are reduced down to more audience friendly (and terribly saccharine) PG-13 vehicles, the work of Lizard is refreshing in its appalling lack of good taste and its penchant for lowbrow comedy that often reaches well below the brow. All of the guys are likeable, even amidst all of the pratfalls and each of them have their own individual moments to shine. Yet, despite all of their best efforts, the troupe is not able to sustain a consistently funny, laugh-out-loud work that their abilities would lead one to believe that they were capable of. As a clever and whimsical foray into bad taste, BEERFEST works, just not enough of the time.
If binge drinking, wretchedly overwrought German stereotypes, lots of busty topless women, and all other things lewd and bawdy are all that you look for in a comedy, then Broken Lizard’s BEERFEST is the comic kegger for you. As for the rest of the film going masses, about four or five real beers may be a first step in terms of fully appreciating yet another missed opportunity by the once promising comic troupe. BEERFEST definitely is able to generate some serious laughs in its overall material, and its willingness to go for broke as a loud, vulgar, and dumb as humanly possible comedy are oddly commendable traits. Yet, there’s simply too much dead air in this would-be hilarious farce about a secret, Fight Club inspired drinking contest. The movie is too long, too irregular and infrequent with its laughs, and too lacking in hearty exuberance. Some small moments of the film definitely taste great, but most of the rest of it tastes less than filling.