WFTB Score: 2/20
The plot: American brothers Jan and Todd Wolfhouse visit Munich to scatter their grandfather’s ashes, only to be humiliated by their German cousins at a secret drinking contest. Desperate to gain revenge, the men recruit friends to form a team for the following year’s competition. Through the trials and tribulations of training for the event, the five men form a close bond which not even death can sunder; although the process unveils some uncomfortable secrets about certain members of the Wolfhouse family.
Given that none of the stars of Beerfest nor their collective nom de plume Broken Lizard are at all familiar to me, I would not have bothered watching it except that I was mildly diverted by a trailer back in 2006 and there was nothing else on. Curses to the incompetence of British TV schedulers!
The Wolfhouse brothers, Jan and Todd (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske), attend the funeral of their beer-loving grandfather and are sent by their great-grandmother, known as ‘Great Gam Gam’ (Cloris Leachman), on a mission to Munich to put his ashes in their rightful place. However, after causing havoc in the city’s Oktoberfest the lads are escorted to the ‘Beerfest’, an international drinking competition where countries compete in a number of beer games, culminating in the ‘line chug’ where the drinkers must face ‘Das Boot’, a glass in the shape of a boot (not a boat).
The Wolfhouses are met with hostility by the arrogant German team, not just because they are slow drinkers but because, as event organiser Baron von Wolfhausen (Jürgen Prochnow) explains, the American side of the family is in disgrace as Gam Gam was a prostitute who fled Germany, her son having stolen the recipe to one of the best beers in the world. Jan and Todd are turfed out, covered with their grandfather’s ashes, and disbelieving the tales of Gam Gam they vow revenge on the Germans.
Accordingly, they gather together a crack team to challenge for the crown: a nebbish scientist known as ‘Fink’ (Steve Lemme); a competitive eater nicknamed ‘Landfill’ (Kevin Heffernan); and former beer games master Barry (director Jay Chandrasekhar) who has fallen on hard times but can still throw quarters like a pro when drunk. With training and discipline the lads get in shape whilst getting shapeless, and the brothers also stumble upon the fabled recipe hidden inside their grandfather’s old doll, Popo; it’s a discovery that boosts customer numbers in their restaurant, Schnitzengiggles, and also interests Gam Gam’s helper Cherry (Mo’Nique) rather more than it should. Drastic events mean that by the time the team get to Munich for another Beerfest, more than the pride of the USA is at stake.
In many respects Beerfest is an absolutely by-the-numbers comedy, its loose plot containing a predictable as they come losers-turned-winners story (Dodgeball appears to be the most obvious inspiration), complete with the broad, ‘gross-out’ humour so beloved of American Pie and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo: here, in addition to the fake-breasted Playboy wannabes who are defrocked in time-honoured fashion, there are gags about frog semen and ram’s urine, and running jokes about Great Gam Gam’s past (poor old Leachman – has she not saved enough to retire by now?).
But unlike the above-mentioned movies, the humour in Beerfest is too basic to even be offensive, too stupid to be thought of as calculated. For example, in addition to the pathetic European stereotypes on display, it pokes fun at a currency which is more widely used than the US dollar and cannot distinguish between England and Britain (it uses a Union Flag to represent England (also called ‘the Brits’), yet has Scotland represented in the film too). And just when you think Beerfest might possibly – possibly – come and go without bringing up German treatment of Jews in the ever-more distant past, it has one of the Germans insulting Fink and firing him up with the ‘Eye of the Jew.’ The clumsy handling of this episode is entirely consistent with the rest of the film, which also has Barry suffering from a severe case of ‘beer goggles’ and Landfill getting killed off in a silly industrial sabotage subplot – only to be replaced by his identical twin brother.
The real problem with Beerfest, however, is the fact that it both celebrates and promotes binge drinking as a non-stop barrage of good times and an essential element of male bonding. To adult viewers who know enough about alcohol to know that the amounts being drunk are clearly ‘comical’, this isn’t a problem; but despite the health warning given at the start of the film, there’s the clear danger that teens and young adults will look at Beerfest and take its prodigious beer consumption as something to be emulated.
Yes, I know that these things happen anyway – the team’s invasion of a keg party merely numbers Beerfest among the hundreds of high school films featuring them – and that young audiences are more sophisticated than they are given credit for; but I was disturbed that the film showed very few negative consequences of drinking, and lots of positive ones. It would be hypocritical of me to say that drinking isn’t about having fun, but to have a film whose entire message is ‘drink as much as you can as quickly as you can and earn the respect of everyone’ is thoroughly irresponsible.
Watched with just a quiet glass of whisky, Beerfest comes across as a cheap, sloppy movie written and performed by five men with little discernible talent as comedy writers, performers or directors. It may well raise laughs and whoops of admiration in drunken frat houses up and down the land, but like the inhabitants of those houses in the early hours of the next morning, there’s a very nasty taste in the mouth.