Before I begin my positive review of 'Beerfest' (a movie that has been dismissed by pretty much every other critic out there), let me just say that my background predisposes me to liking this film. See, I grew up on the West side of Chicago, a largely European community with a sizable German population. Aside from being dragged to the International House of Pancakes every Sunday, each year come autumn, it was time to suffer an even worse indignity -- Oktoberfest. The smell of rotting beer, overcooked bratwurst and ridiculous "entertainment" (usually involving maidens dressed like Swiss Miss and bad polka-rock covers of ABBA songs) was nightmare inducing, and decades of therapy have still not healed the emotional scars. So I suppose I've been waiting all my life for a comedy to come along that desecrates the holy tradition of Oktoberfest, with absolutely no mercy. God bless 'Beerfest!"
As our story opens, we meet brothers Jan and Todd Wolfhouse (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske), who run a Colorado tavern named Schnitzengiggle. After the death of their grandfather Johann (Donald Sutherland, in a hilarious uncredited cameo), the two brothers make a pilgrimage to Germany to visit grandpa's long-lost relatives. But it turns out that their German relatives -- the Wolfhausens -- have held a longstanding grudge against their stateside kin, accusing grandpa Johann of stealing a top-secret beer recipe before fleeing to America. After Baron Wolfgang von Wolfhausen (Jurgen Prochnow) and his German team of champion drinkers humiliate the boys in a beer-drinking contest, the two brothers decide to get even by starting their own annual beer-drinking contest.
To help them in their quest, Jan and Todd assemble a rag-tag group of fun-lovin' cohorts: there's Phil "Landfill" Krundel (Kevin Heffernan), a former winery employee who now "eats for a living"; Steve "Fink" Finkelstein (Steve Lemme), a scientist who, um, fluffs frogs; and Barry Badrinath (Jay Chandrasekhar, who also directed), a gay male prostitute. Fast-forward a year, and the Wolfhouses are back in Munich to do battle with the Wolfhausens. The funny-name slinging -- and beer-induced bellyaches -- will hit fever pitch as the clans, and cultures, collide.
I know 'Beerfest' is not a good movie. I'm even willing to admit that it's a bad one. But it has become the latest addition to my cinematic drawer of ultra-guilty pleasures, joining the ranks of 'Strange Brew,' 'The Last American Virgin' and 'Sorority Boys' as films I probably shouldn't like, but secretly love without remorse. They are what I call "cable heroin," the type of movie that whenever it plays on television -- even for the 1,327th time -- I can't help but watch again, mouthing the words to my favorite scenes and laughing uproariously to myself, as if I'd never seen it before. The fact that 'Beerfest' isn't really about anything is beside the point. Instead, for me anyway, films like this are the cinematic equivalent of a security blanket -- or an imaginary childhood friend that you now know is not real, but whose memory you can't bear to part with. Just as I'll never be able to erase my memories of Oktoberfest, I think I'll always find 'Beerfest' funny.
More to the point for impartial viewers, 'Beerfest' represents a decent turnaround for the Broken Lizard comedy team. After scoring a sleeper hit with 'Super Troopers,' they came back with the rather atrocious 'Club Dread,' which Chandrasekhar followed up by directing the big budget (but equally forgettable) 'Dukes of Hazzard.' 'Beerfest' finally gets the talented troupe if not back on track, then at least generating a decent amount of laughs. This movie can certainly be enjoyed by those without any passion for beer, beer culture, or bratwurst. Instead, this film draws from the same, more universal, forumula used in such hits as 'Dodgeball,' 'Revenge of the Nerds' and 'The Bad News Bears' -- you might call it the "lovable underdogs triumph over stupid jocks in a sporting event" genre. Like other films of its ilk, it has more than its fair share scatological vulgarity, but ultimately it's a light-hearted, rather gentle comedy. I liked these goofy guys, I wanted to see them win, and any film that climaxes with a big drinking competition lifted from the ending of 'Das Boot' can't be all bad.
(It should be noted that this HD DVD version comes in Unrated form, which is touted on the box art as having "more suds, sex and slapstick." I've never seen the original theatrical cut, so I can't say how much more naughty this cut is, but having grown up on indulgent, sexist comedy classics like 'Animal House' and 'Porky's,' this one still seems safe for any horny 15 year-old raised on hours of Showtime After Dark soft-core porn or "Grand Theft Auto.")
'Beerfest' hits both next-gen formats courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment, which as usual has simply replicated this HD DVD video encode and ported it over directly to its Blu-ray counterpart. I watched both on the same day, and these 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p/VC-1 transfers appear absolutely identical.
The presentation is quite good. The most striking visual aspect of the film is certainly its color palette. Hues are incredibly cartoonish, and far from realistic. Given this, I was surprised by the lack of bleeding and chroma noise, even on hard-to-reproduce primary colors, such as reds and blues. Fleshtones, however, while orange, look a bit too flushed, giving everyone a waxy, digital-looking sheen. Contrast is also a bit too bright for my taste, which further adds to the artificiality of it all. Of course, this is 'Beerfest,' not 'Lawrence of Arabia,' so it suits the silliness of the material just fine. Still, detail could have been better, and depth often flattens out. At least there are no source problems, with a very clean print, little-to-no grain and a lack of any noticeable compression artifacts.
The HD DVD release of 'Beerfest' gets a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (which is bit-for-bit identical to the 640kbps, standard Dolby Digital version on the Blu-ray). The film's sound design is really quite a surprise -- lively, engaging, clever and far better than most comedy soundtracks I've heard.
There is a lot of activity in the surrounds -- beer gurgles, fat boys burp and fart, crowds roar, and music swells. Directionality and seamlessness of channel pans are really quite good. During the climactic beer-drinking competition, for example, I was really impressed by the wall of sound that was created in the rears. Dialogue is well done and always intelligible, which is also a surprise given the off-the-cuff, improv nature of much of the film. Frequency response also impresses, with deep low bass and clean highs. Though not overwhelming, 'Beerfest' boasts a nicely-done soundtrack -- certainly better than I expected.
'Beerfest' hits HD DVD with extras identical to the Blu-ray and standard-def releases, and it's an assortment just as goofy and irreverent as the film itself.
As is typical with Broken Lizard releases, there are two commentaries. This time, however, they seem to be aping the dueling families depicted in 'Beerfest.' The first is with Jay Chandrasekhar and Steve Lemme, the second Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. Both gently mock the other (though they were recorded separately), saying that their commentary is gonna kick ass. In my opinion, the Chandrasekhar and Lemme track is better -- quicker, faster and with less dead space, despite having one less troupe member. Truth be told, neither commentary blew me away, but if you are only going to listen to one, make it the first.
Coming up next are three featurettes. "Party Foul" (9 minutes) features the Lizards recounting their most decadent drunken misadventures on-set, which were apparently dangerous enough to prompt Warner to issue a disclaimer absolving them of any responsibility. "Beer 101" (15 minutes) features the Lizards imparting historical facts about the beverage. And "Frog Fluffer" (4 minutes) sees Lemme interviewing a real scientist about the the art of pleasing an amphibian.
Wrapping up the main video materials are 26 minutes of Deleted Scenes. Optional commentary is provided for all the material, which mainly consists of extended jokes and a few more boobies. While most will likely find the 116-minute movie too long as is, the quality of the scenes is pretty good, although they are presented here in 480p video only.
Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer, also in 480p video and 2.35:1 widescreen.
'Beerfest' is a fun movie, and one I enjoyed far more than anyone has a right to. Still, I suspect most discriminating viewers will need to be more than a little buzzed to fully appreciate it. Regardless, this HD DVD release delivers, with a solid transfer, an even better soundtrack, plus a decent batch of extras. Fans shouldn't hesitate to pick it up; all others, consider giving it rent.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.