In mid 1967, an under-educated, under-achieving alcoholic moron (Zac Efron‘s “Chickie” Donohue) from a Manhattan working-class neighborhood foolishly decides to use his Merchant Marine credentials to travel to war-engulfed Vietnam in order to give beer hugs to his military-serving buddies, but gradually has his eyes opened to the real-life horror and particularly the bullshit that LBJ and General Westmoreland have been leaning upon to justify it.

At the end he returns to his home in Inwood, New York, with a somewhat more mature attitude — “less drinking and more thinking.”

Will someone please tell me what’s so awful about a movie that tells that more or less fact-based story? Particularly if the film in question delivers decent performances, reasonably convincing dialogue, tight pacing, semi-realistic depictions of combat and one absolutely killer line of dialogue?

Here it is: Somewhere in a jungle hell-hole Donohue is about to leave a landing zone on a helicopter, and one of his anxious and exhausted G.I. buddies is regarding him with concern. A fellow grunt notices and says, “You don’t have to worry about him. Every once in a while, you’ll run into someone who’s too dumb to get killed.”

Yes, I’ve finally seen Peter Farrelly‘s The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Apple, streaming on 9.30) and it’s a tolerable sit and sometimes better than that. And there’s absolutely no question in my mind that the current aggregate ratings — 44% Rotten Tomatoes, 35% Metacritic — have been motivated by politics and score-settling. For nearly four years the arch-backed film critic cabal has been dying to punish Farrelly for Green Book having won the Best Picture Oscar three and a half years ago, and now they’re sticking it to him with relish, and to Beer Run for fun.

I’m saying this because I know (i.e., not guessing) that in a fair and just world, Beer Run would be averaging so-so or not-bad scores. Scores that say “this movie has a couple of problems, okay, but not lethal ones…it may not be good enough to be raved about, but it’s a decent try and a moderately passable in-and-outer. In HE’s mind it’s a solid ground-rule double, and in baseball that’s a totally respectable thing. You didn’t whiff or pop out, and you’re in a position to score if the next guy slams a single. But in movies if you don’t hit a homer or a triple, you’ve somehow failed.

A majority of critics are saying Farrelly has struck out or been thrown out at first, and they’re just not being fair or honest. They’re basically saying “because this film isn’t as authentic as it could have been in some respects, and because it isn’t political-minded in a way that we’d prefer and because of two or three aesthetic choices that we disapprove of, and because most of us have been dying to take Farrelly down anyway…for all these reasons we’re going to do our best to kill Beer Run.

“Some of you will pay to see it and find it a decent enough thing, and we don’t care about that. We’re writing from within the social-political membrane of an elite cabal and that’s all your going to get from us…elite cabal viewpoints.”

This is the value of myself and Hollywood Elsewhere — a site that occasionally has the character and the courage to say that a film achieving a level of ground-rule double accomplishment is nothing to be ashamed of, and is certainly nothing to trash or urinate upon. The Greatest Beer Run is what it is, and I know it’s a decent (and sometimes better-than-decent) thing as far as it goes.

I absolutely approved of the central arc or journey of the story, which I summarized above. And yet I gradually understood more and more that, to paraphrase Richard Masur in Risky Business, it’s not quite good enough to be called Ivy League. It might’ve worked but it didn’t quite get there. Perhaps the scope was too vast — a spotty but sprawling Apocalypse Now-ish war flick with a civilian perspective — and it simply exceeded Farrelly’s grasp. Which is nothing to be ashamed of as he clearly tried like hell. And like I’ve said two or three times, a few portions hit the mark, and now and then it surprises you.

I was definitely surprised by Farrelly’s decision to play “Cherish,” the 1966 Association song, on the soundtrack as a suspected Vietcong collaborator is brutally murdered. The song has been set up earlier in the film when Chickie tells his barroom buds that he really likes it, but at the same time a viewer will have to admit that “Cherish” is one hell of a counterpoint, given what’s being depicted.

Throughout the whole damn film Chickie lugs around a duffel bag filled with 25 or 30 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. (Which weigh over 20 pounds.) It’s never explained why he needs to bring the beer all the way from the States (military PXs sold beer by the truckload), and why he needs to bring that much. The beers are only symbols of affection, after all, and nobody’s looking to get drunk. If Chickie wasn’t such an idiot, he would drop the whole beer-gifting thing immediately after arriving in-country. But he doesn’t.

It’s hard to put into words, but once the film lands in Vietnam (actually Bangkok plus rural Thailand) Beer Run looks, talks, sounds and behaves like a “movie” rather than raw verite experience. It felt pat and overly symmetrical at times (the fate of a certain Saigon traffic cop nicknamed “Oklahoma”, a wordless scene between Chickie and a young rural Vietnamese girl and her mother), and at other times a bit too “acted” (several Vietnamese citizens grieving in unison near a gas station), and at other times nicely written (especially during the early Inwood scenes) and still at other times relatively honest and authentic in terms of the American characters.

I know it’s kind of a vaguely bad thing to be favorably impressed by a youngish paleface actor, but that’s what happened to me when it came to the good-looking, square-jawed, straight-shooting Jake Picking, who plays the real-life Rick Duggan — the first Inwood guy Chickie runs into. Picking played one of the flyboys in Top Gun: Maverick, Rock Hudson in Ryan Murphy‘s Hollywood, a young Gerald Ford in The First Lady.

Efron is better than pretty good — he delivers exactly the right kind of anguish and uncertainty when called upon. Bill Murray and Russell Crowe hold their own as as an old-school Inwood bartender and a Look magazine war correspondent, respectively. Crowe’s best line: “That’s what war is Chick –it’s one giant crime scene.”

Sean Porter‘s cinematography is undeniably first-rate. Beer Run has been shot with a 2:1 aspect ratio, which is the same shape that Parker used for Green Book and which Vittorio Storaro has called his favorite aspect ratio time and again.

Bangkok aside, the film was shot in three Thailand regions — Hua Hin, Chiang Dao and Ratchaburi.