Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Strange Brew

strange brew index 1It’s doubtful if there’s a more aptly named film than this Canadian effort from 1983, as it is a bloody weird movie, all about a brewery which has created quite the unusual drink, and bizarrely this is also very vaguely a take on Hamlet. Directed by and starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as the two brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie, they were two characters originally created for the SCTV Canadian sketch show which was a similar affair to Saturday Night Live, and who were later revived for an animated series in 2009.

Bob and Doug are two idiots in the best eighties movie fashion who become embroiled with a very fantastical slice of madness. Initially it all kicks off because they’re trying to get free beer and soon they’re at the local brewery claiming that they found a live mouse in their drink, and as the company boss has recently died there’s a fair amount of chaos as his daughter Pam (Lynne Griffin) and her Uncle Claude (Paul Dooley) are fighting over who should run the place, and so Bob and Doug’s ridiculous story is believed and the duo are given jobs to ensure no more mice sneak in to the bottles.

Of course it all goes horribly wrong for them as Max Von Sydow’s Brewmeister Smith and Uncle Claude are in cahoots, mainly as Smith has created a beer that allows him to control the minds of whoever drinks it when he creates specific noises. Because Pam insists on interfering Smith soon frames Bob and Doug so that it looks like they tried to kill her, she’s seemingly in a catatonic state afterwards, and our heroes end up in prison.

It’s an unusual affair and then some, then, starting off with a fourth wall bit of breaking from the brothers who toy with Leo the MGM lion who appears at the beginning of all their films, and after a brief sketch involving a post apocalyptic World War IV survivor looking for beer, we cut back to the studio and the brothers manage to piss off the cinema audience, and end up running away from them. All of this is soon forgotten though as the movie’s plot kicks in, and from that point on it’s an episodic affair with some parts working well and some parts falling flat.

When the brothers get a job at the brewery they initially become involved in a weird game of hockey which goes on for far too long, find an arcade game that mysteriously has footage of the brewery owner being killed, and it’s fairly average for about twenty minutes. It picks up a lot once the duo are almost killed when unwittingly kidnapping Pamela, and there’s some strong physical comedy including Bob and Doug tricking a bunch of prisoners in to thinking they’re cool, turning down a cigarette as Doug brags “We want our lungs to be pink when they fry us”, while the lawyer deals with the press in an amusingly violent manner.

Bob and Doug deliver some funny lines at times and bicker like an old married couple, and every so often it’s quite surreal, like a brief gag where we get to see how their dog sees them, there’s a meta joke about how people don’t look at the road when driving in films which works well, and the final half hour is suitably daft, with some really strong gags and all round idiocy that’ll make you laugh hard.

It’s frustrating that after the strong opening it flags for so long then, I came very close to ditching it and watching something else instead, but at least it does pick up and the final forty give minutes are very likeable indeed. Max Von Sydow plays it a little too straight perhaps, but otherwise this is a very game cast who deliver some nicely odd dialogue, and it’s just a shame it fluctuates so much quality wise early on or this would be a candidate for the “Cult Classics” series.

★★★1/4

Alex Finch.
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