The comedy troupe known as Broken Lizard first hit the movie scene with their 1996 independent release Puddle Cruiser. But it wasn’t until the cult success of 2002’s Super Troopers that they gained real recognition. Solid box office business preceded an enormously successful DVD discovery by fans of lowbrow humor everywhere. Their follow-up to that film, the horror spoof Club Dread, fizzled partially because it took its slasher concept with more seriousness than you would expect. Beerfest returns Broken Lizard to flat-out raunchy comedy and, to a degree, it works. And to a degree it doesn’t.
Lizards Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter play Todd and Jan Wolfhouse, two brothers who take their late grandfather’s ashes to Germany’s Oktoberfest to scatter them. While there, they find their way to a secretive underground drinking club (think Fight Club with beer instead of fists). The club is operated by a German brewery owner named Baron Wolfgang von Wolfhauser (Jurgen Prochnow), who is distantly related to the boys. He accuses their grandfather of having stolen the prized recipe for a special beer. Todd and Jan try to defend his honor by competing in an international beer-drinking contest called Beerfest, which they promptly lose.
Once back home in America, their great-grandmother, Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman), fills them in on family history, including how von Wolfhauser’s brewery is rightfully theirs by lineage. Todd and Jan decide to form a team, go into training, and return to Germany to win Beerfest. They recruit some of their old college buddies: scientist Fink (Steve Lemme), eating contest champion Landfill (Kevin Heffernan), and male prostitute Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar). They spend the next year holed up in a shed, building their alcohol tolerance and trying to figure out how to drink from a special boot glass that holds the key to victory. When their training is complete, they return to Beerfest, determined to win control of the brewery.
Beerfest is filled with the Broken Lizard style of humor. Some of it is intentionally silly, such as the German brothers named Hammacher and Schlemmer. At other times, it’s raunchy. One of the best examples of this is an extended sequence in which a drunken Barry picks up and beds a woman. We first see the event take place through his beer goggles, then again in reality. He envisions himself as a smooth-talking stud, like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, but really he’s slurring his speech and wearing an empty beer box on his head.
This kind of thing represents Broken Lizard comedy at its best. Part of what I like about the group is that they aren’t afraid to teeter the line of decency or good taste. Their movies are gleefully profane, this one in particular as it is filled with nudity, sexual humor, and rampant substance abuse. That doesn’t mean I enjoy this sort of thing for its own sake (because I don’t) but such take-no-prisoners humor can have a big payoff when done right. In each of their films, the comedians have managed at least a few of those payoffs, and this one is no different. I laughed loudly during certain scenes.
While Beerfest has moments where the troupe is at its peak, the movie also exemplifies some of their biggest weaknesses. One of the things I’ve noticed is that only three out of the five members are really funny. Kevin Heffernan is the funniest; he’s kind of like a much edgier John Candy. Jay Chandrasekhar (who directed all the Broken Lizard films as well as The Dukes of Hazzard) possesses a perfect sense of comic delivery, both in his verbal execution of lines and in his physical gestures. Steve Lemme, meanwhile, is gifted at disappearing into characters, Mike Myers-style. Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter are by no means untalented, but they get a significantly smaller laugh ratio than their counterparts. And they’re technically the leads in this movie.
A bigger problem that has also plagued Club Dread is that the Lizards are too in love with their own material. Beerfest runs an unconscionable 110 minutes, which is way too long for this thin premise. There just isn’t enough inherent comedy in beer drinking contests or German jokes to warrant such a length. The film should reasonably run somewhere between 80 and 90 minutes. By dragging on for almost two hours, it starts to wear out its welcome. There’s an old slogan for a popular beer company: “Tastes great, less filling.” Beerfest would certainly have tasted better had it been less filling by about 30 minutes.
So here’s the part where I either recommend the movie or do not. Tough call. For hardcore Broken Lizard fans who saw and enjoyed their other pictures, I would marginally recommend it. You’ll want to see this one too, and you’ll probably get something out of it, but don’t expect to be blown away. If you aren’t already a fan, though, Beerfest won’t turn you into one. I have considered myself a fan since seeing Super Troopers for the first time. That said, I don’t think the boys have made their masterpiece yet. They have a great, classic comedy film in them somewhere. What they need to develop is discipline – the ability to create a strong story to support the humor and the foresight to trim away the stuff that isn’t necessary. I’d wager that someday they’ll make that picture. For now, there’s only the scattershot amusement of Beerfest.
( 1/2 out of four)
Beerfest is rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content, language, nudity and substance abuse. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
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