August 31, 2006

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Beerfest (R)
A group of Americans try to prove their drinking might and best a bunch of stuck-up Germans who have smeared their family name in Beerfest, a movie from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe.

Jan (Paul Soter) and his older brother Todd Wolfhouse (Erik Stolhanske) run their family's German eatery in Colorado — an excellent profession because all that schnitzel and wurst goes great with the copious amounts of beer they inevitably drink each day. When their grandfather dies, they agree to take his ashes to Munich to the Oktoberfest where all of his family's remains are kept. How do they know this? Why, their grandfather's mother, their Great Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman) tells them, making her the oldest living Heidi impersonator ever.

When the boys get to Germany, they find out that Oktoberfest is only the window dressing for a far more serious event called Beerfest. Like the Olympics of drunkenness, Beerfest is a competition wherein each country (the drinkier the better) sends a team to test its liver at chugging, drunken ping pong, quarters and other beer-related events. The ultimate challenge is something called "das boot," where the final chug is out of a giant boot-shaped stein which, because of its shape and the bubble of air that forms at the toe, tends to best most competitors.

The boys love beerfest and are delighted to find out that Germany's competitors — the von Wolfhausen boys — are their cousins. These cousins, however, deny that any kind of family reunion is going on. They tell Todd and Jan that their Gam Gam was the town whore and their grandfather was just the bastard son of who knows who. Naturally, there's some challenging to prove manliness via beer-drinking and naturally, because the movie is still in its opening quarter, the Americans lose.

On returning home, however, they get a little of the John-Belushi-in-his-big-speech-scene-of-Animal-House spirit and decide to show jerry what's what and put together their own team. It comes to include Landfill (Kevin Heffernan), a beer-lover and professional most-hot-dogs-at-the-fair-contestant; Fink (Steve Lemme), a scientist who still retains his college drinking abilities, and Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar), a one-time king of drinking games and current male prostitute.

Ah, the jokes pretty much tell themselves, don't they.

In typical sports movie form, the team comes together, falls apart, suffers a loss and rallies to eventually win one for America, freedom and Great Gam Gam at Beerfest.

Beerfest is stupid, sure, but it's the family of burp-laced, wiener-joke stupid (with just a hint of irony) that has made Will Ferrell such a comic genius to some people.

There is a scene in Beerfest when team Beermerica shows up at what appears to be a college party and challenges the kids to drinking games, to help them train against live competitors. While the kids accept the beersters and begin the explanation of various beer-and-bong-based drinking experiences, the scene itself has a note of the creepy to it. These are, after all, solidly middle-aged men that the movie seems to be passing off as post-adolescents. The movie occasionally notes this disparity (like when one team member moans that his wife has left him and taken the kids, shocking his teammates, one of whom responds "you have kids?"). But it remains something you can't easily push from your mind. Just as watching 30-year-olds and near-30-year-olds play high school students has always seemed a bit off, so does the age-to-action equation of the characters of this movie.

For extra weird, the movie also makes a couple of Cold War jokes and has enough '80s hair that for a moment I almost wondered if this was some sort of holdover from the Reagan era. Perhaps it was recently unearthed from a time capsule where it shared space with Phil Collins' "Land of Confusion" video and a season or two from that Billy Crystal era of Saturday Night Live. The anachronisms of this strange National Lampoonish film continuously threw me for an attention-distracting loop and all that spinning with all that beer can quickly make a person nauseous.

Beerfest is similar to Snakes on a Plane in that it is pretty aptly defined by its title and, simply by hearing the title and knowing nothing else about the film, most people would make a pretty good guess as to whether it is a film for them or not. So, when you see the word Beerfest do you think "that would be awesome!"? If so, then $6 will seem to you like a fair trade for this hops- and barley-filled comedy. Was your initial reaction something akin to "ugh"? Well, you're not wrong either. C-

— Amy Diaz


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