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By Pete Vonder Haar | August 26, 2006

A wise man once said, “If bread is the staff of life, then beer is life itself.” Another one said, “Give me a movie with copious amounts of alcohol and at least ten exposed breasts and I’ll guarantee you a three-picture deal with Warners.” It is through the merging of these sage philosophies that we end up with “Beerfest,” the latest effort from the gents at Broken Lizard.

The tone for the movie is set early on, as Jan Wolfhouse (Paul Soter) enjoys a pre-funeral bout of quarters, demonstrating both his prowess at the game itself and the importance of beer to the Wolfhouse clan. It seems the family patriarch (an uncredited Donald Sutherland) has recently died and left the family restaurant to his grandsons (Jan, whom we’ve already met, and Todd (Erik Stolhanske)). Their grandmother (Cloris Leachman) informs the boys they first must return granddad’s ashes to the family resting place in Munich, however. Luckily for the guys, they arrive in the middle of Oktoberfest, and after causing something of a ruckus in the main tent, the two are whisked away by a family confidante to the aforementioned hallowed ground.

As it turns out, the Wolfhouse ancestral digs double as the site of an underground drinking competition known as Beerfest. As in the noir masterpiece “Bloodsport,” contestants from across the globe battle against each other in a veritable kumite of consumption for the glory of their motherland (sadly, Van Damme himself is nowhere to be found). Unfortunately, Jan and Todd get the cold shoulder after meeting their German relations (headed by Jürgen Prochnow), who accuse the boys’ grandfather of absconding with the family beer recipe and their grandmother of being a dirty w***e. To add insult to…insult, the Germans trounce the Americans in a chugging competition. They return to the States humiliated but determined to come back the following year and redeem their family honor.

After the step backwards that was “Club Dread,” the Broken Lizard fellows needed to reclaim some of the magic they exhibited in their first film, “Super Troopers.” And after the tar pit swan dive that was “The Dukes of Hazzard,” director and BL member Jay Chandrasekhar likewise needed a return to lost glory. Sadly, “Beerfest” isn’t quite it. That’s not to say the film is a failure; the jokes may be cheap and obvious, but they’re generally funny. Cloris Leachman is aces and – speaking as a person of German ancestry – let me just say that “Deutschbag” is a great insult. Granted, you’re going to enjoy it a lot more if you spent a healthy chunk of your late teens/early 20s playing Bullshit and doing keg stands, but it’s far from the worst comedy of the year.

Much of the time, however, the movie feels lazy. There are some inspired touches (Prochnow gets in a great “Das Boot” reference), and a couple welcome moments of genuine surrealism (the nod to “An American Werewolf in London,” to name one), but “Beerfest” lacks the improvisational feel that permeated “Super Troopers.” There are no flat-out uproarious moments like the latter film’s opening scene, and – odd as it sounds – the BL crew opt for the low road and the easy joke far too often. Did I laugh? Sure. Did the three beers I had during the film help? You bet your a*s. Having said that, one of the hallmarks of good comedy should be that you’re not required to add alcohol in order to enjoy it.

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