Sometimes a movie just gets better and better each time you watch it. And other times it's "Beerfest."
Despite an excellent, 1080 high-definition transfer to HD-DVD, the movie remains hard to watch. Why? Because the pleasure of looking at good, clean, vivid, well-defined video wears off after about two minutes if nothing is going on. With "Beerfest," the title pretty much says it all, and beyond the title, there isn't much else.
I'm sure you're familiar with the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. They're the fellows who brought us the silly "Super Troopers," which picked up a loyal following since its release in 2002, and the tepid "Club Dread," which people seem to have largely forgotten since its release in 2004. Now, following their customary two-year cycle, the merry Lizard band give us the 2006 release, "Beerfest," and it remains to be seen for how long people will remember it.
The version of the movie reviewed here is unrated, by which the filmmakers mean "now with more suds, sex and slapstick." As I have never seen the rated version, I couldn't tell you what the filmmakers added or subtracted or whether "more suds" constitutes a good time. What I can tell you is that the unrated version is 116 minutes long and the rated, theatrical version is 104 minutes. So, I guess the unrated version provides an additional twelve minutes of suds, sex, and stuff. I'm here to say none of it helps.
One thing is sure: You probably have to be a fan of beer busts (or you have to be loaded) in order to appreciate the film. As a tender innocent who doesn't drink, I'm afraid the movie's finer points flew by me. As its title implies, the plot, what little there is of it, is about drinking beer. Lots of it, in big, competition drinking contests. And doing stupid things when drunk. Since watching people do stupid things (e.g., "Jackass" and the like) seems all the rage these days, Broken Lizard (Jay Chandrasekhar, who also directed, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stokhanske) probably figured they could do them one better by scripting the stupidity. Wrong. It doesn't look as though the Lizards scripted any part of this film. The result leaves one awestruck by its sheer insipidness, as though the Lizards just made it up as they were going along, a series of improvisations where everybody thought they were being funny except the people having to watch them.
The film reminded me in part of 2004's "Dodgeball" with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller in that it pokes farcical fun at a sporting event, with the protagonists being to varying degrees losers from the beginning and the antagonists seemingly invincible. The only difference is that "Dodgeball" was funny.
The bits and pieces of a story line concern a pair of brothers, Jan and Todd Wolfhouse (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske), who own a Colorado tavern called the Schnitzengiggle, getting involved with some family members in Germany, the Wolfhausens, in an international, supersecret drinking competition in Munich. The brothers go to Munich following the death of their grandfather in order to spread his ashes around the fatherland. Whilst there, they meet the cousins who disowned them long before and accused their grandfather of having stolen a secret beer recipe from them before his fleeing to America. After Baron Wolfgang von Wolfhausen (Juergen Prochnow) and his German team of champion drinkers pretty much humiliate them, the boys determine to assemble an American team, train for a year, and come back and challenge the Wolfhausens for the crown.
Back in the States, Jan and Todd gather together some old drinking buddies. The first is Phil "Landfill" Krundel (Kevin Heffernan), a former winery employee who now eats for a living (don't ask). The second is Steve "Fink" Finkelstein (Steve Lemme), a scientist who fluffs frogs (you don't want to know). And the third is Barry Badrinath (Jay Chandrasekhar), a male prostitute who works in the gay community ('nuff said). The rest of the movie consists of the squad practicing day and night for the upcoming challenge, meaning they drink continuously, and as a climax to the story, the final confrontation.
Along the way, I smiled twice. The first time was when Donald Sutherland showed up in a surprise cameo as the dying grandfather, Johann, and the second time was in a scene with Cloris Leachman as the brothers' bawdy grandmother, Great Gam Gam. Otherwise, the comedy in the film is so lacking it's embarrassing. And, no, there is relatively little nudity or profanity for an unrated edition, but there is the expected amount of scatological gags, bathroom humor, crudeness, rudeness, and general bad taste. If any of this had been done to seriously offend somebody, it might have been an improvement, but mostly the film is just one bland drinking scene after another, with a lot of mileage gained from Prochnow's most famous film, "Das Boot," as the final contest comes down to the contestants drinking from glass boots. That's about the extent of the funny business. Indeed, there is more invention during the outtakes of the closing credits than in the whole of the movie.
"Beerfest" did better at the box office than the Lizard's last outing, "Club Dread," and I'm sure it was because of the title because I know that any male under thirty who saw it advertised in the newspaper must have thought, "Cool. My kind of flick." I also believe that any male under thirty who sees that this film comes in an unrated edition promising more suds and sex is also going to think it's gotta be cool. What the keep case doesn't tell you is that the movie is aggressively, rampantly, jaw-droppingly dull. Although the best I can say for it is that it did not offend me, two smiles do not a good comedy make.
While the SD picture quality was fairly pleasing, the HD-DVD picture is downright remarkable. As before, it measures a ratio of about 2.20:1 across my television, with colors that are richer, deeper, and more vibrant than ever before. In the SD edition I remembered the hues seeming a bit too bright, in fact, too intense, to be entirely realistic, but in high def, they look just right. Although they remain bright and maybe a bit cartoonish, that is not inappropriate given the cartoonish nature of the movie. Object definition is terrific, and grain and noise are never an issue, meaning the screen is crystal clear. The movie may not have much to offer, but the high-definition video is quite pleasant to watch, at least until you get bored just staring at pretty colors.
I thought the sound of the regular Dolby Digital 5.1 audio was pretty good in the movie's SD edition, but the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 goes it one better. The bass still makes itself clearly manifest early on with some very deep, thumping, sometimes thunderous low notes, only this time they are even better focused. Dynamics are strong, and the tonal balance is quite full and robust, the sound well spread out among all the channels. There are numerous things going on in the surrounds, as well, like musical ambience enhancement, crowd noises, sound effects of assorted kinds, objects falling, beer foaming, and so on. What's more, the midrange displays excellent clarity, and the highs are fairly well extended. Even if the sound doesn't have much to do, it does it with authority.
In addition to the dozen or so minutes of unrated material, the HD-DVD boasts the same extras as the standard-edition disc. It comes, for instance, with not the customary one, but two audio commentaries. Maybe that's part of the joke. An epic film requires epic commentaries. One of them is with Jay Chandrasekhar and Steve Lemme and the other is with Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske. While, sure, they could have done a single, group commentary, where would have been the fun in that? Besides, with these dueling commentaries they ensure that the viewer is at least tempted to watch the picture more than once.
The disc also includes three featurettes. There's "Party Foul," nine minutes, wherein the Lizards recount some of their drunken misadventures. There's "Beer 101," fifteen minutes, wherein the Lizards offer up some historical facts about beer. And there's "Frog Fluffer," four minutes, wherein Steve Lemme interviews a real scientist about the possibility of truth behind the tomfoolery. Of more interest, however, is a series of deleted scenes lasting about twenty-six minutes (with or without two separate commentaries again), which provide a little more nudity and a little more humor.
Things wrap up with thirty-one scene selections but no chapter insert; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English and French spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. As always, the HD-DVD also comes with pop-up menus, a zoom-and-pan function, an indicator of elapsed time, bookmarks, and an Elite Red HD case.
What do I know. The movie may become a cult classic. Or it may acquire over the years a devoted following equal to the Lizard's "Super Troopers." Certainly, like "Super Troopers" it's innocuous enough not to seriously insult anybody, despite its dubious subject matter. Heck, it might even become the obligatory centerpiece for all college beer busts for the next fifty years. Or not.
I mentioned earlier that I don't drink, yet I'm a big fan of American football. I know that sounds contradictory, but what are you gonna do? I'd get kicked out of a Raiders game for not drinking, but it doesn't matter since I've always favored the 49ers. What does this have to do with anything? Well, I'm just explaining that as a nondrinker, I suppose I couldn't appreciate the subtleties of "Beerfest." All I noticed is that in HD it looked good. I leave it to those readers who understand the nuances of beer drinking better than I do to enjoy it.