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Beerfest Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Image The National Lampoon movies sort of reached their downtrodden peak of funniness by the time the 1990s spurred around. Almost a decade into the 2000s and National Lampoon has become nothing more than a name tag on a never-ending list of direct-to-video abominations. In all fairness, at least its unique brand of twisted satire and bad taste had created some sweet moments of cinematic glory (need I say Vacation and Animal House?). Which goes above and beyond what comedy troupe Broken Lizard has managed to make since 2002 with the theatrical release of their first flick Super Troopers. Headed by actor-director Jay Chandrasekhar, Erik Stolhanske, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan, and Paul Soter, the Broken Lizard guys seemed to have a better time making movies than the audiences did watching it. Club Dread and now Beerfest are no different.

Jan Wolfhouse (Paul Soter) and Todd Wolfhouse (Erik Stolhanske) are brothers whose grandfather (Donald Sutherland) has just passed away. Their very Germanic great grandmother, affectionately called Great Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman), assigns them a mission of a lifetime: to spread their grandfather’s ashes around this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The Wolfhouse boys make their dim-witted way to the world’s largest gathering of soon-to-be-alcoholics and well-established bierleichens (the Bavarian term for the especially beer-blitzed patrons). It is there that they stumble across the festival’s greatest secret attraction. Yes, the Beerfest! An all-out underground drinking competition between the team that will inhale the most amount of beer possible and the team that will inhale the most amount of beer possible. Alcoholism shmacoholism. These self-proclaimed manly men representing several European nations attempt in vain to beat the native team at what they are the best at. Yes, drinking beer! When the Wolfhouse brothers mistakenly partake in a round against the dominating Germans (who also happen to be their cousins), their defeat inspires them to return home and train an American team ready to take the trophy. Beer. Check. Breasts. Check. Slapstick hi-jinks. Check. Fake German accents. Check. Completely Totally Unrated (according to the cover). Check. Confusion as to what went wrong here. Double Check. I am not a movie snob at all. I love what the best in every single genre can deliver to audiences. Beerfest is not one of those shining examples. A movie is only as good as its characters. Without the interesting characters, the movie does not have the heart. Without the heart, it does not have the funny. Otherwise, as in the case of Beefest, it becomes a series of soulless jokes. Although Barry (director Jay Chandrasekhar), a rehabilitated male prostitute, garners a laugh or two in his introductory scenes, this is only because it is hard not to chuckle at the level of unnecessary ridiculousness this film seems to reach. The only way I could think of making the movie somewhat more enjoyable would be with a, yes, drinking game! Every time a joke falls flat, one shot. Every time someone falls down in a drunken stupor, two shots. Every time you press info on the remote to check the how much time is left in the movie, three shots. Or you could just drink the booze and watch Battlestar Galactica.

1080p rarely looks this nice. Whether this is because every single element on set was evenly lit and/or the chrominance was accidentally measured too high in-camera, it hardly matters. The movie almost becomes an excusable Friday night sit-down just by watching how pretty it is. The disc’s VC-1 encoded transfer stretches across the screen at a flush 2.35: 1 aspect ratio (although listed as 2.4:1). Crisp, well-defined colors that border on cartoon-like hues genuinely reflect the inherent cartoon-like ridiculousness of the film. The clarity and sharpness of the golden fizzling of beer and the luscious bulging of breasts are as amazing as filmic HD can presently get.

I do not know what the SD DVD Dolby Digital mix sounds like. However, if it bears any resemblance to the rich Dolby Digital Plus English 5.1 audio track offered on this HD DVD, then audiophiles should bask in this surprisingly dynamic serving of crisp dialogue, active surrounds, and bum-bumping bass. Yes, bum-bumping bass. I actually had to lower the volume at times just so I did not find myself repeatedly hitting rewind and play for ticklish effects (I figured it might help me laugh in some way). The film is filled with the kinds of thunderous crowd chants, bombastic music, zany sound effects, and character yelps that would, and has, made the listening experience as praiseworthy as the video quality.

In a fun and perfect world, the special features would be at least as good as the main feature. In an awesome and tantalizing world, the special features would be even better than an already excellent main feature. What kind of a world is it when the special features disappoint even more so than its disappointing feature counterpart? That would be the world of Beerfest on home video. We are given two surprisingly dull, self-reflexive commentaries with director Jay Chandrasekhar and the rest of the Broken Lizard guys, 27 minutes of deleted and extended scenes that could not have hurt the movie if left in, 9 wasteful minutes of the guys shooting off their best yet astonishingly tame drunken stories in “Party Foul,” 15 minutes of a pseudo-informational video on the history of beer in the snappily titled “Beer 101,” 5 of the unfunniest minutes on the disc that over explains a joke in the film that did not need explaining in “Frog Fluffer,” and rounding up the dullpen: a theatrical trailer. For the final layer of crap-tastic icing, the special features are only presented in 480i/p standard definition. Sigh. Do not bother.

Whereas National Lampoon peaked in humor and originality from which it earned its right to become the leader in piss-poor attempts to revitalize former comedic glory, Broken Lizard is like the aftermath of something that might have been great. This HD DVD is a technical achievement but should consumers be treated to a long line of nice-looking and sounding movies without the heart or the funny? Really though, why ask? They do it anyway. Beerfest, as with the other Broken Lizard romps, feels like that time you walked into a room where you missed the first part of someone’s joke and when the punch line arrived all you could do was laugh with everyone else so that no one thought you didn’t get it. The truth is: I get it. It is just not very funny.

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