Published on October 14th, 2022 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
The Greatest Beer Run Ever (2022)
Finally, a movie title that lives up to its name. Ridiculous, improbable and true but limited in perspective, The Greatest Beer Run Ever still provides 2 hours of entertaining story.
Oh good. Another “based on true story” movie. I’ve been duped so many times in the past by wild fiction posing as historical events that when another claim like this comes along, I’m eye-rolling and skeptical. Turns out, what started as a barroom story 50 years ago is actually legitimate. While the reviews are mixed, to put it politely, the booing it received from critics seems rather petty. Having said that, it depends on what kind of movie you’re expecting to see.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever takes place during the war in Vietnam, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a Vietnam war movie. This isn’t Platoon (1986), Apocalypse Now (1979) or Full Metal Jacket (1987). It’s not even Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), because it lacks much of the gravitas, multi-character depth and perspective that the topic deserves. That’s what it isn’t, but if that’s what you are expecting, buckle up for disappointment. What it is, happens to be the inconceivable story of a loveable goof, a big-hearted guy with more eagerness than brains, attempting to show support for his friends who where shipped off to war.
The real Chickie Donahue (L) and Zac Efron as Chickie (R).
Chickie Donahue left New York City (Inwood, actually) in November of 1967 to deliver beer to his neighbourhood friends fighting in Vietnam. Donahue, a former US Marine and merchant seaman, used his connections and knowledge to hitch a 30 day ship ride back to Qui Nhon, a place he had been twice before. His goal was to surprise four of his friends, each stationed in four different areas, with cans of beer from back home. And it’s true. John “Chickie” Donahue actually did that shit. After getting drunk in his local bar and announcing to his friends that he would take the bartenders suggestion to deliver beer to the boys literally, word quickly spread through the neighbourhood. And so, to avoid name-calling ridicule from his fellow New Yorkers by making a smart, sober decision, Chickie got a duffle bag, loaded it with beer, and set off to a war-zone to cheer up his friends like he said he would. Now I ask you, does it sound even remotely plausible that anyone not strapped to a psychiatric bed would legitimately consider such a trip? Well Chickie did. And Chickie did.
Looking back, nobody still thinks the US involvement in that war was a good idea. But at the time, people were very much divided. In 2020, with no real war to fight, planet earth went to war against Covid, and while everyone agreed to fight the enemy virus, people took sides on how go about it. We blamed the media and misinformation to support our perspective, and that’s where the similarity to Chickie’s situation becomes comparable. During the war, there was a support side, and a protestor side. Chickie was of the former, believing that all the negative press on tv went against reports from the White House that the war was being won by brave young soldiers, and did nothing more than depressing and demoralizing the country when it should have been unified in support of the troops and US military. He was curious and bothered by why the press would only report bad news back home.
And so a six-beers-in idea was executed with very little plan or doubts, and zero thought of possible consequences. In this early stage of the story, it reminded me of the book Are You Dave Gorman? (2002) in which drinking buddies Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman strike up a slurry barroom bet that Dave can’t find fifty more people named Dave Gormans. And they put that bet to the test. The book is the story of their obsession, travels, losing girlfriends and going broke, all to prove a stupid point about loyalty. And that’s pretty much the Chickie Donahue story, but with the perplexing, bewildering contrast between stupid funny and regular stupid, like when a guy decides to go to Vietnam as a civilian during a war to take his friends beer. How did this not seem insanely dangerous? Why did the neighbours all send items with him to give to their sons rather than talking him out of the suicide mission?
Donahue was clearly motivated by his perceived patriotism, loyalty to the concept of friendship, and a desire to prove to himself that his perspective was just. To some degree, it backfired. Donahue completed his mission through the grace of extraordinary luck, but his understanding of the realities in Vietnam did a 180 from departing NY to arriving back home. And his luck was so extraordinary it deserves a movie, even if it is of narrow perspective. Last spring, a Regina resident won the $70M Lotto Max with odds of 1: 33,294,800 and that lucky son-of-a-bitch still has nothing on Chickie Donahue.
At first it’s just fun to watch this hopeful, tail-wagging man-puppy wonder through ships and helicopters, landmines and gunfire with a sack of warm beers. His only lie is telling everyone the truth when asked or questioned and, because it sounded so improbable, most of his support and transportation comes from soldiers and officers who chose to believe that he’s covert CIA, rather than a blundering fool. As the story progresses, the tone gradually shifts from goofy to deadly serious as Chickie discovers the reason for all the bad news back home. It was all bad news. And as that realization becomes his reality, Chickie’s casual enthusiasm and belief in his government, that they were doing the ‘right thing’, began to fade like the last chord in a sad, powerful ballad.
Despite the films attempt to at least consider heavier themes and character development, it still lauded derision from many critics. One movie writer even went so far as to obliterate and discredit the entire undertaking because of its white, western perspective that lacked Vietnamese representation and depth. Fair point, but we only see it from Chickie’s perspective because it’s Chickie’s story. As I stated at my intro, this isn’t a Vietnam war movie so much as it is the wild tale of one guy who left NY with a hopeful thought to make a difference because of his beliefs, and how he readjusted his vision through an experience that was equal parts incredulity and admirable sentiment. So yeah, the movie is pretty white. But it’s the story of a white guy from New York, told from his perspective, and it’s a damn crazy adventure worth watching. If you’re looking for more than that, look elsewhere. If you want 2 hours of bewildering amazement, you found it.