Friday, April 29, 2016

Strange Brew Review

There are a couple of movies that are regularly brought up among friends of mine when talking about 1980's comedy movies. One is Strange Brew (1983). When I confess that I have not seen it, I'm told to "Take off, you hoser." Well, I finally got around to seeing it. It is wacky, silly, and at times surreal. Though early on, it prompted me to reflect on the subjective nature of comedy.
In their quest for free beer, bumbling Canadian brothers Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas) wind up working at the Elsinore Brewery. The hapless hosers uncover a sinister mind-control plot spearheaded by Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) and must stop the scheme, which also involves Uncle Claude (Paul Dooley), a member of the Elsinore family. As Bob and Doug try to help the brewery founder's daughter Pam (Lynne Griffin) regain the brewery founded by her recently-deceased father, they also manage to drink plenty of their favorite sudsy beverage.
Bob and Doug McKenzie were popular characters on the SCTV (Second City Television), a Canadian television sketch comedy show offshoot from the Toronto's Second City troupe that ran between 1976 and 1984. The two dim-witted beer-swilling brothers, wearing heavy winter clothing and tuques, would comment on various elements of Canadian life and culture, frequently employing the interjection "Eh?" The sketch was conceived when SCTV moved to the CBC television network which had shorter commercial time which required the SCTV show to need a two-minute filler. The characters became remarkably popular and Strange Brew was formulated during the height of their popularity.
The challenge for Strange Brew was expanding an improvised two-minute comedy sketch about two guys talking about how hard it was to find parking spaces in donut shops into a full-length story. Strange Brew purports to be to be loosely based on Hamlet, though I saw more similarities between Hamlet and The Lion King than I did between Hamlet and Strange Brew. The movie starts out being remarkably loose and unstructured. It looks a lot like I imagine the SCTV's sketches looking like, the two McKenzie brother sitting around talking about beer and how they are in a movie. This went on longer than it should have and I was worried that I was in for 90 minutes of this sort of thing. When the story actually got underway, it was easier to watch. The story is decent for what it is; a silly adventure that serves as a vehicle to deliver some bizarre humor. That's about all the plot does and it does that well.
The humor here I felt was hit-or-miss. Sometimes it was funny, other times it took me a moment to realize the punch line had already been delivered. The two brothers still make commentary on things around them; one of my favorite moments of this is while they are driving, Bob begins to speculate and says, "Did you ever notice that, like, in movies when they're driving they don't look at the road for a long time?" Doug, who is driving turns to Bob and says, "Geez, no, I never noticed that, eh?" Doug continues to make eye contact while Bob explains, "Yeah, it's because they're being towed by a rig." The conversation is interrupted when Doug nearly front ends a truck. The humor makes constant jabs at Canadians and stereotypes about them. Reoccurring themes include hockey, beer, and donuts. The villain's henchmen all wear hockey gear and carry hockey sticks. The whole story centers around trying to get free beer from a brewing company. In one rather amusing scene, the McKenzie's get classified company information from a receptionist by offering her donuts; she cracks when presented with a jelly-filled donut.
Yes, there are plenty of funny moments, but there were a lot of gags I didn't find so funny. I found the aforementioned opening scenes pretty bland and even annoying, which is what prompted my reflection on the subjective nature of humor. Analyzing humor won't get anyone anywhere, though. Humor is very subjective and if I laugh at something and you don't, no amount of my logic is going to convince you that it was funny. Overall, I didn't think Strange Brew was nearly as funny as many of my friends had made it out to be, but it was alright for a few chuckles. Also, having lived in Canada myself, I can honestly say actual Canadians don't act the way the McKenzie brothers do.
Strange Brew is fairly lowbrow in its intent and outcome, though it effectively draws out a few laughs from its unique premise and weird characters. I thought other comedy titles from its time were funnier, such as Better Off Dead, UHF, or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Strange Brew isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon watching a movie, it's just not something I think I'd go out of my way to see again. It seems to have made a lasting impression culturally as Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas basically reprised their roles as the McKenzie brothers as the two moose in Disney's Brother Bear many years later. Strange Brew may be worth seeing once if you enjoy bizarre comedies or jokes about Canadians. Otherwise, you may be better off watching something else.

What are some other good television sketch comedies made into movies that you've enjoyed? Comment below and let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your review. I'm a fan of Strange Brew. The story really is based on Hamlet. Bob and Doug have the roles of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. The brewery where most of the story takes place is Elsinore (the castle in Hamlet). In this story, the role of Hamlet is female: Pam Elsinore. Her father was murdered by the guy who then married her mother and takes over the brewery with Max Von Sydow. The father makes some ghostly appearances...I could go on with the similarities, but that would just bore both of us. I'm glad you reviewed it. I think it's a movie that becomes more enjoyable with additional viewings...but humor is subjective...and it has been a few years since I watched it.

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