2 stars


28th August 2006

Never let it be said that I'm not a big fan of lowbrow comedy: I can happily sit for hours watching someone get kicked in the nuts or punched in the face repeatedly in the name of entertainment, and am quite partial to films which require minimal brain power and indeed a short attention span. Ooh, a squirrel! Anyway, purveyors of such base-level comedy Broken Lizard - the comedy 'troupe' (man I hate that term) behind Super Troopers and the largely unseen Club Dread - are back with their new effort Beerfest, a film which invites, no, demands you crack open a brew before watching. These guys are kind of like an anonymous frat pack, but with no real stars among them (unless you count the guy who directed The Dukes of Hazzard) and one tenth the box-office draw. Beerfest has fleeting moments of fun, but it constantly begs the question: wouldn't you rather be getting drunk somewhere instead?

Sent on a mission to spread their grandfather's ashes at Oktoberfest, scrawny American brothers Todd and Jan Wolfhouse (Stolhanske and Soter) stumble on a secret underground drinking tournament hosted in Munich, where the world's finest ale quaffers come to compete in Beerfest - the Olympics of getting wasted. The teutonic hosts don't take to kindly to our Miller Lite-sipping heroes and once they've handed their asses to them on ein plate, send them packing with their puny American sausages between their legs. Vowing to return the next year to defend their honour, the brothers set about assembling an all-powerful drinking team comprised of old frat buddies and spend the next twelve months in preparation for the next year's Beerfest. Cue several drinking montages, hours of pub games and a hell of a lot of trips to the toilet.

See what I mean about lowbrow? This is not a film concerned about a script filled with witticisms or closely observed character nuances. This is a film where a loud, gassy burp qualifies as a gag. Far be it from me to take the moral high ground over a film about beer drinking (Lord knows I've been found slumped under many a table after similar experiences) but the premise holds up about as well as a soggy bar towel. I can certainly see how it could be a blast watching it with a group of beer-swilling mates and pub snacks (it'll definitely be a film for those of whom like to play drinking games themselves) but sat in a cinema, surrounded by stony-faced - and stone-cold sober - movie patrons, it just falls flat too many times. Most of the positive reviews you'll read online - include this one from the human Snickers bar Harry Knowles - have been influenced by boozy press junkets. Don't be fooled.

Part of the problem is a total lack of character comedy. The two leads, Stolhanske and Soter, have zero personality and even less screen presence (the latter is only memorable for his often uncanny resemblance to Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund). The rest of the team is made up of; Barry Badrinath (Chandrasekhar), an ex-bar games master who has fallen on hard times and started whoring himself under a bridge; Charlie 'Fink' Finklestein (Steve Lemme), a Jewish lab tech who's able to analyse drinking games 'scientifically' and finally Phil Krundle aka 'Landfill' (Kevin Heffernan), a beer-chugging, pie-eating machine. You could probably fit their character notes on the back of a beer mat, that's how poorly realised they are. They don't even have the decency to get drunk properly, stumbling around unconvincingly and slurring their words like a deaf person. Real drunk people are much funnier to watch; this, I thought, was obvious.

It's not the fact that the jokes are puerile that will turn you off, but the fact that they'll always be the most obvious joke at any given moment. It's not enough to simply have Jurgen Prochnow appear in a scene on a U-Boat, but to have him reference it as well ("I had a bad experience on one of these once") in case the lager-swilling audience don't get it. In fact, the Germans are mercilessly mocked throughout and the accents are deliciously OTT (watch out for the guy doing the Arnie impression), but dressing characters in lederhosen and having them talk with a Herr Flick accent does not a great comedy make. (Throughout the entire film, I was waiting for the almost inevitable David Hasselhoff cameo, but was sorely disappointed to discover there wasn't one: maybe Dave isn't really in that kind of place to appear in a beer-drinking comedy right now).

Beerfest may well have a longer drink-by-date than I give it credit for and may even become a cult classic in the drinking game circles, but the fact is, watching it in a cinema will leave you cold, as will much of the US-centric humour. Rather like American beer itself, Beerfest is flat, tasteless and probably likely to kill a few brain cells to boot. Neck a few pints beforehand if you can, but otherwise it's about as much fun as being the designated driver for the evening.

More:  Comedy
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