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Movie Review: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
It's been a long time since a movie has riled up so many people before even opening in theaters. And yet that's exactly what's been going on with I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Based on the salacious memoir by Tucker Max, the film has been met by protests in North Carolina, had advertisements yanked from buses in Chicago and generally been nebulously associated with "promoting rape culture" by numerous blogs and publications. Tomorrow, Angelenos will be able to see what all the fuss is about as Beer in Hell lands in theaters. My take: it's a fucking comedy, people. Comedies are supposed to make you laugh. It does!
To those who would reflexively respond, "I wouldn't see anything involving that fucking douche, Tucker Max", understand that the film is a considerably more genteel rendering of Max's misadventures than the stories in his book and blog. Granted, there's still plenty of coarse, vile, degrading, smelly and cruel humor (plus alcohol abuse plus nudity), but the overall tone is far more rascal than rapist. That's mostly thanks to the genuinely sunny demeanor of Max avatar, Matt Czuchry, the leavening of the script by Max and Nils Parker with a (somewhat unwelcome) pinch of heart and the crisp, clean direction of indie veteran Bob Gosse.
The premise of the film is as straightforward as it gets: bachelor party goes horribly wrong. Where Beer in Hell distinguishes itself, though, is in the egregiously foul ways in which things go sideways. Here's a general gloss for the film: figure out where the line is drawn, then approach that line, then run so far past that line that you can no longer see it, then come back and vomit on the line. So instead of getting the obligatory "guy gets violently ill and needs to take a shit but can't" scenario, we get something more reminiscent of the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin. Is it puerile? Yes. Low and broad? Sure. But funny? Yes!
While Czuchry gives us a brighter, more likable Max, Jesse Bradford steals the movie as the film's realmless heart of darkness. Those critics who've found a misogynistic tone in the film constantly refer to many of Bradford's lines as proof of their belief. What they're missing, though, is the pitch-black comic tenor of Bradford's performance. It's interesting that cruelty in a dramatic film is instantly forgiven, while in a comedy it's seen as indicative of some larger purpose or intent. Which is absurd. Sure, Bradford's Drew is a dick, but he's a funny dick who meets his worst imagined fate -- he finds happiness with a -- gasp -- woman.
Many -- probably most -- critics will dismiss I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell as frat-boy tripe. And you know what -- they may be right. This isn't Sophie's Choice. This is a vulgar comedy that pushes the boundaries of what's considered appropriate comedic material. Where a film like The Hangover tells a similarly raw story about a bachelor party gone off the rails, there's never any sense that things may not turn out okay. In Beer in Hell, though, that's almost the point. It dares you to laugh. It dares you not to like it. It offers up terrible examples of human behavior and says awful things about people in sharp, cutting words. But...it's funny.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell opens tomorrow.