Nobody would ever call Chickie Donahue a heavy thinker.
Heavy drinker is a title that fits him ever so much better. But when he came up with his latest plan, he was no more than five beers into his regular routine at the local bar—which for Chickie is practically stone-cold sober.
While sitting, drinking and discussing the local guys who are dying over in Vietnam during the spring of ’67, Chickie declares that he’s gonna show his buds in uniform a little love. He is a Merchant Mariner after all. He’ll just take a few cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and visit some of the guys on the front lines with a brewski in hand. It’ll be easy.
Of course, by the next morning, the idea of hopping a steamer to Vietnam seems kinda silly. But by then word had gotten around that Chickie Donahue was gonna go over there and show those guys what they’re fightin’ for. And family members of friends start handing him things to take with him.
By now, Chickie is kinda wishing he’d just kept his mouth shut. But then a couple of the guys come up to calm him down. It’s not like anybody expects him to go, they tell him. I mean, everybody knows he never follows through on anything.
That sneering assessment of his character is just enough to tip the scale.
Next thing you know Chickie is lying his face off to get three days leave in Saigon. He’d made it there via a ship that was transporting ammo, carrying a duffle bag full of PBR. And he’s determined to track down his friends.
Now you might think that it would be a little tough for a civilian to find his way around a country full of flying bullets and dropping bombs. But somehow the military brass is quick to assume that an undocumented “tourist” walking by himself through a war zone is probably none other than, shh, CIA.
And who’s Chickie to tell them they’re wrong? This three-day beer run might just work out.
I mean what’s a little war between old bar-hopping friends anyway?
Chickie may not be thinking as clearly as he should, but initially his intentions are good. He really does want to take a message of support to his friends. And he really does believe that, like past wars, the American efforts in Vietnam are upright and freedom-focused. (It’s only with time that he realizes that everything that they hear back home isn’t exactly accurate.)
Despite his lack of understanding of the severity of war, many people go out of their way to help Chickie survive. Ultimately Chickie fesses up and apologizes for misleading people and unthinkingly encouraging a friend to join the war effort. He’s forgiven by others.
Chickie’s family is Catholic and they encourage him to go to mass. But he only slips into the church long enough to give the impression that he was there for the service. A news photographer in a Saigon bar orders another cocktail, saying, “One more time for Jesus.”
During explosive combat in the streets, Chickie blames himself for things going wrong, stating that “God always made me pay” for any foolish mistake—from stealing candy to having sex. The reporter he’s talking to doubts that bringing beer to men in the war would raise God’s ire.
Chickie says that the first time he ever had sex he came down with a venereal disease.
The warfare raging around Chickie intensifies as his beer-delivery quest unfolds. At first, Chickie’s just running from sniper fire. Then we see people hit with bullets and grenade shrapnel. Planes drop napalm on fields and mountainsides. We see a herd of elephants that is scarred by the carnage. Explosions abound and people run amid ricocheting gun fire and shoot outs. A man is battered and bloodied by an interrogator and then thrown head-first out of a helicopter to fall to the forest floor below.
When a battle breaks out in Saigon, Chickie and a reporter friend run for cover. Buildings get hit by explosive RPGs. A Jeep blows up, sending men flying. One guy staggers forward from the blast, his arm torn off and bleeding at the shoulder. We see several dead and bloodied people lying in the streets, including children.
Back home, people talk about friends who have died in the war or gone MIA. A protest erupts into a brawl, and someone is punched in the face and knocked out cold.
Two f-words and some 30 s-words are joined by about15 uses of “a–” and “a–hole” and several uses each of “d–n,” “b–tard” and “h—.”
God’s and Jesus’ names are both misused a total of 30 times (with the former being combined with “d–n” seven times). There are several crude references made to male and female genitals.
Since this is all about a long-distance beer run with a seemingly bottomless bag of canned beer, there is constant drinking in the mix. We see people chugging back beers, glasses of Scotch and cocktails in bars, fox holes and on military bases. Some get a bit tipsy. One guy puffs on a marijuana joint. And a variety of different people smoke cigarettes throughout.
Several people, jaded by the harshness and agonies of war, speak of their distrust of government officials. Several times, lies and deception are purposely disseminated through newscasts and public statements.
“A little less drinking. A little more thinking!” declares the protagonist of The Greatest Beer Run Ever.
That’s the clearest message this antiwar comedy has in its Pabst Blue Ribbon-stuffed duffle. And let’s face it, along with this pic’s second encouragement to not instantly swallow everything you hear in the news, that’s probably a sentiment that many ought to take to heart.
That said, this “based on a true story” movie isn’t necessarily the best investment of your lesson-learning time. It tiptoes alternately between brainless choices, ever-flowing profanity and bloody war. And drinking, too, of course.
Chickie, our beer-swilling hero, may espouse good reasons to be less inebriated. But his movie isn’t exactly intoxicating or all that thoughtful.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.