If you plan on seeing Beerfest, you don’t care what the reviews will say. But, to start, know this: The fourth production by Broken Lizard is stupidly funny and just so wrong. As a fan of Super Troopers, I knew going in that it would be ridiculous and above critique. And it is. For as much as there is wrong with this movie, the antics of Broken Lizard balanced this laughfest even as the end credits were rolling.
This is the only movie I have ever been asked for ID at the ticket booth and then again at the door of the theater. I was half-expecting (and very much hoping) that there would be beer served inside. No such luck, but the movie’s warning in the first minute explained why no theater should serve alcohol with this movie: if you try to drink as these characters do you will die.
Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske play two brothers, Jan and Todd Wolfhouse, who travel to Germany during Octoberfest to spread their grandfather’s ashes in his home country. After starting a riot, they find their guide who brings them to the family resting grounds: Beerfest, the top secret Olympic games of beer drinking. How top secret is it? Only those invited are allowed to live. The brother’s guide is instantly taken off camera and shot. But, sudden death is part of the game. As are monkey chug, depth challenge, quaters, and, of course, beer pong. After being embarrassed by their German cousins the Von Wolfhausens in a chugging match, the brothers are told that their grandfather was a mere stable boy who stole the recipe for the “greatest beer in all the land” and left with his whore mother for America. Tossed out of Beerfest, the brothers return to the US, determined to go back the next year and defend their family’s honor–especially their gam gam’s reputation as a whore.
Jan and Todd gather up a team of top drinkers. First is Landfill, played by Kevin Heffernan, who is a hotdog eating, beer swilling guy, who was fired from a local brewery for drinking off the line. Next is Steve "Fink" Finklestein, played by Steve Lemme, a scientist who is taken on for his precision in beer pouring, and also for his quantum physics skills. His job is to figure out how to chug from a glass boot the Germans drink out of without it spilling. Finally Barry, played by Broken Lizard himself Jay Chandrasekhar, a former quarters and pong champion who now turns tricks under a bridge in town. Once the team is assembled, the year of training begins.
The team drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks. From their first days as innocent drunks, they move up the alcoholic scale until they are able to drink as much as they can and not be affected by the alcohol, perfect to the competition. They also find in the training the secret recipe and brew the greatest beer ever. Tragedy strikes when the Germans get wind of their brew mastery and try to steal it back. Landfill, in a daring attempt to protect the team, falls into a vat of fresh brew and dies an alcoholic’s sweetest death. But, never fear, Landfill 2 is here. Yes, Heffernan returns as Gil, Landfill’s identical twin brother, who taught Landfill all he knew about drinking. Gil asks to be called Landfill in his honor–and also so there wont be any confusion in case the audience is in fact drunk.
A team renewed, they go on to Beerfest to face the best drinkers of the world. Do they win? Yes and no. Officially, they lose the championship but win the rematch and the German’s brewery on top. While this movie won’t win any awards, it’s in the running to be a college cult classic. It has immature laughs, inspirational beer games, and an inconsistent plot to nowhere. See this movie, it’s a no brainer.
Invincible is the latest in Disney’s series of inspirational sports dramas, and it doesn’t stray far from the game plan that made Remember the Titans and Miracle successful: an underdog pursues a seemingly impossible goal, confronting adversity and doubt from those around him, and finally, against all odds, overcomes. There is one crucial divergence here, however, that is a detriment to the film: where the other two movies’ focus was on a community of people, the focus of Invincible is individual, and though the film is entertaining enough it is far from the best of this type of movie. Quite simply, I’ve been here before, but with Sylvester Stallone, Denzel Washington, and Kurt Russell. Invincible is good, but it isn’t good enough to defeat its lack of originality.
It is the loosely-based-on-true-events story of Vincent Papale (Mark Wahlberg, sporting a hairdo that can only be described as a crime against humanity), a thirty-year-old, down-on-his-luck part-time bartender from Philadelphia and a rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan. Papale is in a miserable situation – he is laid off from his job teaching summer school, he has no immediate prospects for employment, and his wife leaves him in particularly vicious fashion. At the urging of several of his bar buddies (Michael Kelly, Michael Rispoli, and Kirk Acevedo, among others), Papale attends an open tryout for the Eagles called by new Head Coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) and, miraculously, makes the team. At the same time, an awkward romance begins between Papale and his friend and bartending boss Max’s (Rispoli) pretty cousin Janet (Elizabeth Banks).
Taken individually, the cast of Invincible is good but not great. Wahlberg, probably best known as an actor for 2003’s The Italian Job, gives a solid performance as Papale, but like so much of the movie, I’ve seen it before, and done better; he is solid, but not inspiring. Greg Kinnear’s fiery and dedicated Head Coach Vermeil is stronger, turning a comparatively minor role into one of the bright spots of the film. Neither Elizabeth Banks nor the usually fine Kevin Conway (Gettysburg; here playing Papale’s father) are particularly good; both are competent, but the chemistry between each of them and Wahlberg is simply not there. Generally, the ensemble of actors playing Papale’s friends are strong, though no one stands out. Fortunately, however, taken as a whole, the ensemble works well together; even though the individual performances are not the stuff of Oscars as a complement they are convincing.
The script, by screenwriter Brad Gann, is probably the greatest flaw, and it is done little justice by director Ericson Core. Throughout the film, there are storylines and incidents – Papales’s broken marriage, the romance between Papale and Janet, the relationship between Papale and the other Eagles’ players, for example – that are not adequately fleshed out, and while Core’s gridiron scenes are convincing and realistic his pacing of the plot is too fast, not leaving room for relationships between characters to flesh out. It is only filming his football scenes that Core’s direction takes off: especially in the final sequence, but throughout the movie the football scenes are realistic and exciting.
Invincible is an entertaining, good enough movie, an enjoyable way to spend two hours, but it is no more than that. It is derivative and unoriginal, but perhaps its greatest sin is that it is not particularly inspiring. As I said earlier, I’ve been here before, but with Denzel Washington. Unless you really want the theater experience, you’d be better off sitting down and re-watching Remember the Titans.