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Strange Brew (1983)

by on 2010/07/07

Hacker Renders and I have been watching through a stack of Canadian films this July in honour of our nation’s birthday. Being self-respecting, patriotic Gen-Xers we knew Strange Brew (1983), the feature film turn of iconic SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, was absotively, posolutely mandatory CanCon.

As an ill-behaved tween, I used to struggle myself awake in the wee hours on weekends to catch Second City Television, the amazing sketch comedy show that ran off and on in the late ’70s and early ’80s. SCTV featured the collective comedic genius of Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin and Martin Short.

While not my favourite sketches on SCTV— I preferred Monster Chiller Horror Theatre’s Count Floyd (Flaherty) and Eugene Levy’s Igor — Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Great White North segments were always good for a slice of authentic Canadiana. They looked and talked exactly like my neighbours in the trailer down the way, right down to the misshapen toques, flannel shirts and stubby swilling.

These uber-hosers took off with the mass Canadian populace in a way that Farm Report’s Big Jim McBob (Flaherty) and Billy Sol Hurok (Candy) “blowin’ up real good” , or Mailbag’s Bill Needle (Thomas) did not.  Perhaps the reason for McKenzies’ success was in something I read about Moranis and Thomas doing some (or was that all?) of the GWN sketches legally inebriated. Perhaps.

Nonetheless the popularity of the characters propelled them into an opportunity to hit the silver screen. Interestingly, I also read the initial script for Strange Brew was initially framed quite strictly around Shakespeare’s Hamlet until it was re-written to be a bit more free-flow and surreal (flying skunk-dog in a cape anyone?).

The discerning viewer will notice that the action pivots around the family intrigue and murder at Elsinore Brewery. Brother offs brother for control of the brewery (kingdom) and the hand of the murdered brother’s lady wife, leaving legal heir Pam(let) Elsinore (Lynne Griffin) to sort things out. Pam is adored by former hockey great Jean “Rosie” LaRose (Angus MacInnes) who was benched because of a complete nervous breakdown who later um, drowns briefly (Ophelia).

Bob and Doug play the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s of the piece, blundering around the brewery as the events play out. As far as the Hamlet parallels go, that’s all I’ve found.

Now for the plot-like aspects of the film… Evil brother Claude Elsinore (Paul Dooley) is in cahoots with Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow). How in the world did Thomas and Moranis talk Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow into doing this film? Dear William Shakespeare, how? I’m sorry for the outburst, I just really want to know and can’t find the answer. I certainly couldn’t locate the answer in the film. How? Ok, I’ll stop now.

Smith and Claude Elsinore have a nefarious plot to turn all the attendees of Kitchener’s Oktoberfest into mind-controlled zombies thanks to a chemical they’ve introduced into their free beer. There’s also the attempts on Pam’s life and frontal lobe when she’s institutionalized at the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane.

Mostly, there’s just goofiness that make you laugh despite logic, the laws of physics and your own self-respect. The best part of the film is the abortive post apocalyptic Mutants of 2051 A.D. at the film’s start where Bob plays “like a one-man army, like Charlton Heston in Omega Man. You ever see it? Beauty.”

If you haven’t seen this Canadian rite of passage, you should for um, sociological reasons. For a better sketch-turned-feature film, see the review for The Wrong Guy.

* * *

Rated PG for substance abuse and language

90 minutes

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