Beer swilling, burping, pissing, throwing up and boob gazing – a typical night’s out with the lads but, just like those nights out, it does go on for much too long.
Jan and Todd Wolfhouse (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske) are nice American college boy types from a family of Bavarian beer brewers who travel to Munich to scatter their grandfather’s ashes at the famous beer festival. They stumble, literally, onto a much more hard-core event – Beerfest – where international teams compete in a kind of binge drinking Olympics. For a refreshing change, it is the Americans who are the lightweights.
Daily Mirror: “There are some movies that work better after a few pints. Beerfest is a movie that would work better after a frontal lobotomy.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Most of the jokes are out of the gutter but the set ups often are quite smart. You might end up being insulted by the punch line but you have to pay attention to get there.”
On one level Beerfest is a lowbrow comedy aimed at lads who like staying in for a DVD, a curry and a few cans of lager – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but it is more than just a laddish drink, sex and bodily functions fest.
Well it tries to be. The humour is straight from American college-boy reviews with plenty of jokes about booze, boobs and dicks as well as the inevitable bodily functions, especially belching, throwing up and bladder emptying.
The main actors, who are also the writers, are part of an anarchic comedy troupe called Broken Lizard who met at college and made their name in the States by doing their routine in theatre clubs and review bars before going into movies with films such as Super Troopers and Club Dread.
They probably did write Beerfest sitting around someone’s pad with a curry and some cans of lager and, at its best, the film has an easy informality as well as an irreverent charm which allows the writers and the director, fellow Broken Lizard, Jay Chandrasekhar, to impose the casual nature of a shambolic fringe theatre onto the much more rigid tradition of the American feature film.
Jay Chandrasekhar (who, as a neurotic male prostitute, is also the funniest performer in the movie) sends up the grand art of film directing by allowing us to see the joins. The low-tech special effects are part of the humour such as the ludicrously unconvincing body doubles or the highly unconvincing cuts between shots when anyone is downing a gallon or two of beer. There is also an improbable scene where a scientist who is literally jerking off a frog in the interests of science is framed so that we only see the man making rhythmic movements accompanied by squelching sounds until, inevitably, he is sprayed with gunge by an off-camera props man. It’s the kind of stuff kids dream up when filming in their garages.
The film is a merciless send-up of Fight Club with its seedy underground world and aggressively fought out drinking competitions. The beer, literally, never stops flowing as the different nations put up their best boozers. After the World Cup and before the next Olympics, it is no bad thing for someone to point up the downside of too much national pride.
National caricatures form the backbone of the movie with much of the humour aimed at Americans – surely that is a refreshing change these days. The other principal targets are Germans who are portrayed with more than a little childish disregard for political correctness. A lot of the fun comes from exaggeratedly silly German accents especially from the veteran actress Cloris Leachman, as the boys’ great grandmother who dresses like an innocent if decrepit milkmaid but comes out with a string of obscenities like “I’ve had many things shoved up my arse.”
The trouble is that the jokes are stretched way too far in a movie, which lasts nearly two hours and seems much longer. There is a limit to the amount of low-tech direction we can take in that time especially when it is matched by deliberately low-tech acting no matter how joyfully irreverent the whole enterprise may be.