When I was 12-years-old, I saw two movies I loved. I was reminded of both of them while watching this. The first was Smokey and the Bandit. Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed flee from the nasty cop (Jackie Gleason), as they try to smuggle a truck load of beer across state lines. At my age, I thought it was the greatest beer run ever (and I was too young to know anything about the days of bootleggers back in the Prohibition era).
I also saw the movie Inside Moves, an early Richard Donner film based on the book Gimp, about a bunch of crippled guys at a bar. They often joke and make fun of things, and one of them (David Morse) heckles Golden State Warriors players, and one challenges him to a game of one-on-one. This leads to him getting an expensive surgery to repair his damaged leg, and making it to the NBA.
I was reminded of that because this story starts out with a bunch of young guys in 1967, debating the war in Vietnam, with a grouchy bartender (Bill Murray) who fought in World War II.
One of the guys, Chickie Donohue (a terrific Zac Efron) decides to get off his barstool and do something about it. His sister spends her days protesting with signs. His dad mocks him for sleeping in all morning and drinking all night, and slapping his head like he’s Travolta at the dinner table in Saturday Night Fever. Since they lost a friend in Vietnam and have others still there fighting, Chickie decides he’ll bring a bunch of beer over to them. Folks, sometimes life is stranger than fiction, because just as Peter Farrelly tackled a true story with the terrific Green Book, this is mostly a true story (it’s hard to believe some of the elements). Of course, the bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are from all those idiot critics that still want to complain about Green Book (which deserved the best picture Oscar that year). And the critics all loved Spike Lee’s Vietnam movie Da 5 Bloods… this movie is so much better.
Chickie is a Merchant Marine that has grown tired of the bad press coming out of Vietnam, and the protesters in his neighborhood. So, he finagles his way onto working a supply ship that will head to Vietnam, figuring it shouldn’t be hard to find his buddies and hand deliver some brews.
Watching how easily Chickie saunters into military zones once his ship docks, is great. He’s a mixture of charm and stupidity, and we love it. I once interviewed a guy in San Diego that has snuck into 20 Super Bowls in a row, as well as an event with President Clinton. He said it best. “If you act like you’re supposed to be there, people usually let you in.”
Now, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes the MPs think he’s CIA. Other times, he bribes them with a few of the Pabst Blue Ribbons he’s got in his duffle bag. We realize that things might get hairy, and they do.
He meets up with a journalist named Coates (Russell Crowe), who takes him under his wing. And Chickie’s view on war starts to change. Farrelly smartly kept Chickie’s character from not being too much of a blowhard early on, and also not making Coates some cliche character (the way Sean Penn was as a war photographer in a Ben Stiller movie). Although with all the running around the streets Crowe was doing, I was wondering if he was in danger of possibly having a heart attack. He is a hefty dude these days. But I digress.
It was also smart of Farrelly to use different songs from the ‘60. We don’t need to hear CCR’s “Fortunate Son” anymore. Instead, he gave us “Cherish” (and since that’s an Association song I hate, I loved them making fun of it…and it made for a powerful few scenes a few other times it was used, including a piano version of it late in the movie). We also hear the Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” as well as songs like “She’s About a Mover,” “Psychotic Reaction,” and “Walk Away Renee” to name a few.
There’s also a great score provided by David Palmer (I love the work he did in Beginners).
My wife and I both liked the movie, and I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. Don’t listen to the bitter critics that are just hating on Farrelly.
3 ½ stars out of 5.