Sunday, February 27, 2011

"IF I DIDN'T HAVE PUKE BREATH, I'D KISS YOU." I've been in a rather Shakespearean mood of late -- watching several Shakespearean films including LOOKING FOR RICHARD, MACBETH, RICHARD III, KING LEAR, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and OTHELLO. Therefore I naturally wanted to write a little something about STRANGE BREW (1983). Now, "Lord!" I hear you screech, "he's FINALLY lost it this time!" What could a dopey 80's comedy parlaying the SCTV characters of Bob & Doug McKenzie possibly have to do with the immortal bard?!?!?! Well, quite a lot, actually. In fact, it may surprise those of you who have never seen the film to know that STRANGE BREW was in fact based (rather loosely, admittedly) on a little play by Shakespeare entitled "HAMLET". Yes, that's right. And with a little George Lucas thrown in for good measure. Now, when watching a low-brown Canadian comedy film focussing on mentally-bereft man children, beer, donuts, noogies and fart jokes -- you may be forgiven for missing the subtle introduction of Shakespearean tropes but I tell you it's all quite deliberate. Stars Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas were originally going to write the script to the film as a way to cash in on the immense popularity of their previously-released comedy LP of the Great White North. However, contractual bindings prohibited them from doing so; therefore, they hired Steve De Jarnatt to write the first draft of the film and the screenwriter produced a script which was, in fact, extremely faithful to HAMLET in its construction. The studio, however, thought it was TOO faithful for a Canadian dopey comedy and told them to come up with a less exact homage with only strong parallels to the famous play. But, having done this, STRANGE BREW still remains very close to the Shakespeare play.
Here we have, after a rather weak opening sequence involving Bob & Doug McKenzie's amateur post-apocalyptic home movie, two dopey Canadian brothers who drink all their father's beer after papa gave them money to go out and buy it for him. In order to avoid getting in deep trouble with Dad (who is voiced by an unseen Mel Blanc!), they hatch the scheme of putting a mouse in a beer bottle and heading over to the liquor store for some free beer. Sadly, the mouse they use is still alive and the brothers are tossed out on their Canadian keisters. Bob & Doug then decide to head on up to the Elsinore (first dead giveaway) brewery in order to score a free case of beer. There they find Pam (Lynne Griffin), daughter of the brewery's former owner who died suddenly. Pam's mother Gertrude has married her late husband's brother Claude (Paul Dooley) and given the brewery over to him and evil brewmeister Smith (the great Max Von Sydow). . .thus passing over Pam's rightful inheritance of the family business. Smith is planning to take over the world by introducing a mind-controlling drug in Elsinore beer; he is also coincidentally head of the Royal Canadian Institute For the Mentally Insane which conveniently is situated next door. Pam's boyfriend Rosey (Angus MacInnes) is a hockey player who currently resides in the asylum and, along with the other inmates, is being experimented upon by Smith with drugged beer and sonics. Bob & Doug McKenzie are given jobs at the brewery in order to keep tabs on them; they backhandedly end up trying to help Pam and the kindly deposed former brewmeister Henry Green (Douglas Campbell) regain control of the brewery and free the put-upon asylum inmates. It goes on from there -- and the boys' beer-guzzling dog Hosehead plays a vital part in the movie's climax too!
The HAMLET parallels are all over this movie. Pam, of course, is the Hamlet figure with a sex-change; deposed of her rightful inheritance when her mother Gertrude (Gertrude in Shakespeare as well) marries her brother-in-law Claude (Claudius in HAMLET) for control of Elsinore. There is even a scene where the ghost of Pam's father supernaturally appears out of a "Galactic Border Patrol" video game -- this mimicking the ghost of Hamlet's father. Rosey fulfills the love interest role for Pam as Ophelia did for Hamlet; in fact, Rosey even has a drowning scene! And, of course, he is driven insane (like Ophelia) by the drugged beer and sonic experiments of Brewmeister Smith (NOT like Ophelia). Smith does not have a direct parallel with the Shakespeare play; instead he and Claude seem to be two halves of the King Claudius character in HAMLET with Smith handling the Machiavellian evil and Claude more of a bumbling doormat. Bypassed former brewmeister Green probably stands in for the bumbling Polonius while Bob & Doug McKenzie naturally fulfill the clueless Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern rolls as they constantly meander through the proceedings without the slightest idea of what's going on. See Tom Stoppard's ROSENKRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD for more info on these daffy Shakespearean dolts. Oh, and as for the George Lucas references? Well, STRANGE BREW of course was released the same year as Lucas' RETURN OF THE JEDI. The hockey-playing mind-controlled asylum inmates wear white suits that look remarkably like stormtroopers (with black versions for the opposing team) and several "Star Warsy" lines in the film appear the likes of "I'm your father, you hoser" and "He saw JEDI 17 times, eh".
Now, I've always had a fondness for this dopey little comedy even BEFORE I'd ever read HAMLET. What I liked most about it was the performance of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas; they have the brotherly rapport down perfectly and act as real-life (albeit extremely stupid) brothers naturally act. They portray a genuine relationship which rings super-true in the way brothers compete with one another, give each other Indian burns and insult one another. . .however, there is also an underlying fondness and affection which is equally evident. These two SCTV comedians can actually act! At least in these two roles. Max Von Sydow is marvelous as evil Brewmeister Smith and I'd love to know what exactly he thought of this whole escapade. According to a 200o interview with Dave Thomas, Von Sydow did the film because "his kid told him to". Von Sydow plays it completely straight and, therefore, is also quite funny as well as menacing. Paul Dooley, of course, is always wonderful and plays the dithering, snivelling coward to the hilt. The rest of the cast is no great shakes in the acting department but who the hell's watching them while these other larger-than-life performances are going on; they are adequate for their admittedly throwaway roles and don't get in the way of the plot or the antics. Oddly enough, a movie like this wasn't actually rejected out of hand by the critics at the time. While they certainly didn't praise it as a classic, neither did critics lambast the film but found it mostly OK. There is enough of a dose of surrealism and a knowing tongue-in-cheekiness to keep the film afloat. It's certainly not a comedy classic but I've watched it more times than I can remember and I always find it funny and entertaining. An enjoyable romp all around. And need I reiterate that Bob & Doug McKenzie were the obvious source of dopey duos from Wayne & Garth to Beavis & Butthead; these and more owe more than a passing debt to Bob & Doug McKenzie who did it first and did it better.
And this personal aside to Weaverman regarding the writing of this post: "Be careful what you wish for. . ."


Dis Guy said...

Wait, wait, wait... I thought we did it first and did it best? Make up your mind. Oh and Kim Jacoby said to tell you he said "Hi".

Weaverman said...

I have no one to blame but myself!

Cerpts said...

Yes we did. I'm only talking about "fictional" dopey duos.

Talk about opening Pandora's Box!!!

Cerpts said...

OH and wait. You didn't seriously talk to Kim Jacoby, did you?

Dis Guy said...

Yes I did. I saw him at the new Golden Corral in Berlin that just opened. He's one of the store managers apparently.

Cerpts said...

Hokey Smokes! Once a Sizzler Manager ALWAYS a Sizzler manager.

Dey hirin'???????

Dis Guy said...

they just opened friday so maybe

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