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By Brad Laidman | December 28, 2000

“There’s probably beer here somewhere.”
Released to mass hysteria, 1983’s “Strange Brew” symbolically let go thousands of moths in movie theaters all across the world by jarring loose the stagnating concussion of the modern cinematic age. Or then again maybe not. “Strange Brew” is my own personal Mendoza line of stupidity, which means I give them a little credit for pretending to be an adaptation Hamlet, but that I’m not really buying that this took much longer to film than to show. I can’t explain why Jerry Lewis movies are a bunch of nonsense, while “Austin Powers” is brilliant, and I don’t know which side of the fence I am on between the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges.
Most of “Strange Brew” is just two guys pretending to be morons while a camera rolled nearby. They would say that when you successfully reach the point of being deep in character, it tends to lend itself well to improvisation. You might think that they were too lazy to actually write a script. Of course, the brilliant “This is Spinal Tap” was also largely improvised. I’ve always sort of thought that Jazz musicians sold us the idea of improvisation just so they wouldn’t have to play the same song every night. I give them a little credit for their spirit of the moment claims of occasional excellence that can’t be caught in a studio, but I’ve always been pretty much of the opinion that the best stuff comes from the constant reworking and rewriting to make something a great piece, as opposed to, of course, making it all up as you go along.
Additionally, “Spinal Tap” was making fun of characters we had seen and even worshiped time and time again. “Strange Brew” is mocking thirty-year-old Canadian men who live with their parents, drink beer all day, and always have a dozen or so donuts on hand. If they are out there, I’m not sure I want to know about it, and yet, “Wayne’s World” owes almost everything to Bob and Doug McKenzie. Don’t forget for a second that Mike Myers is a Canadian. Wayne and Garth were simply a sanitized version of this pair with more relatable tastes in music, who also looked more normal playing hockey in the street. You don’t even have to remember that this nonsense was also a TV sketch supposedly about a hip, little-watched TV show, “The Great White North”. Bob and Doug just couldn’t afford to emblazon their show’s emblem onto their hats. Don’t even try to think about understanding the implications of them having the same jobs as LaVerne and Shirley, but marvel at how the boys were obsessed with Star Wars ten years before Kevin Smith made it cool.
This type of low-brow, over-the-top silliness is perhaps the most dangerous thing to pull of successfully. I’d be prouder handing “Showgirls” in to a film professor before I risked my grade on “Strange Brew”. So this is the cutoff. If you are embarrassed any more than you would be admitting to the girl you love that you dig “Strange Brew,” then it’s probably not worth seeing.
There’s tons of weird stuff here: haunted video games, the boys doing shock therapy on each other for fun, a dramatically stilted court room scene, imperial storm troopers playing hockey, and enough bodily function jokes to make even the Supreme Court reconsider its views on low, nonproductive and ridiculous behavior.
Things of Note: How did they get Mel Blanc to agree to be in this, much less Max Von Sydow? How did they get that mouse in the bottle? Is it cruelty to animals to keep a mouse in a bottle? Which one is Bob and which one is Doug? Which brother is the less intelligent of the pair? Exactly what was their blood alcohol level at the time this was filmed? Did thinking up the idea of a dark scary brew master who tries to take over the world by putting supplements in his beer take more than a half hour, and if not did they really still that it was funny when they sobered up? Did they ever sober up? Couldn’t they have paid up to use the Cream song instead of trying to write one of their own? Then again you have to give credit to a pair who can drink a beer while submerged under water in a beat-up van. Of course, when the police divers come to save them, Doug McKenzie is so conditioned to his every day life that he pulls out his driver’s license, and probably psyches himself up to walk a straight line.
When it comes to television skits transferred to the big screen, this is way below “The Blues Brothers,” substantially higher than “It’s Pat,” and in whole not anywhere close to the incisive biting commentary of any one of Eddie Murphy’s James Brown sketches. My favorite being The James Brown Hot Tub Party. Extra points for being the closest thing to what eventually morphed into Beavis and Butthead and I love it when they start scrapping with each other, especially in the straight jackets!

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