by Hank Yuloff
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Off the top of your head, name your favorite season(s) of Saturday Night Live. My guess is that they weren’t the seasons that involved Julia Louis-Dreyfus or the tsunami of unfunny known as Jay Mohr/Janeane Garofalo. Like most sketch comedy troupes, the best ones are those who work as a group instead of one star cast in a sea of mediocrity (a.k.a., the Will Ferrell years). The Broken Lizard troupe forgot that when they made Club Dread, a film so underwhelming that hardcore fans would just assume Beerfest was the real follow-up to Super Troopers. And while it seems impossible for the five-man ensemble to ever trump the cult classic status their first film engendered, they still produced a damn fine comedy, which plays off their strength as one unit instead of many individuals.
Loosely based upon a drunken rambling between five frat guys, Beerfest follows two German-American brothers (Paul Soter and Eric Stolhanske), who (when scattering their grandfather’s ashes) stumble upon the greatest show of beer-drinking strength this side of a Green Bay Packers tailgate party. Simply known as “Beerfest,” the two are pulled into a generations-old family drama that encompasses whores, silly accents and a sassy black nurse. Still with me? In order to defend the family and national honor, they recruit their college buddies (the other three Broken Lizard troupers) to bring America’s mojo back.
If you were confused by the following paragraph, you must remember two things: One, I’m a mediocre writer. Two, plot takes a back seat when the film is named BEERFEST. Provided they party and drink copious amounts of the hops and barley, you should not expect a strong storyline. In fact, its rambling and tangential design aids the final product since it lends itself to inane stabs at humor without straying too far off course. The true test of Beerfest is whether it’s a Super Troopers or a Club Dread. The answer is that it falls closer to the former. The simple reason being that the five guys get to spend more time together on screen
Like a good beer, troupe comedies rely on chemistry. Like he did in Super Troopers, director/member Jay Chandrasekhar and company were repeatedly riffing off each other in their scenes. Thus, a movie about five state police officers came off as merely five friends giving each other shit. Club Dread tried to push the slasher joke (previously done in the first Scary Movie) and sacrificed scenes where two or more were on screen in favor of tension. Beerfest clearly exploits the pack mentality to its fullest—heaping scene upon scene where they are drunkenly puking, smashing and screwing things which have no business being puked, smashed or screwed.
That said, it’s not perfect. The funniest joke Super Troopers maintained was that at the heart of the comedy, the serious profession of law enforcement was conducted by pot-smokers who engaged in group sex with their sexier captives and “used” the evidence for their personal pleasure. Beerfest does not contain that irony, simply putting five gentlemen in a room and getting them shitfaced. So, the jokes aren’t as funny or outrageous as you’d expect them to be. But trying to top a cult hit is damn near impossible. For what it is, Beerfest takes on the identity of its subject. It might not be the snappiest or the hardest-hitting, but over a two-hour period, its steadiness is more than satisfying.
Hank Yuloff is a film critic living in the Midwest.
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