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Strange Brew (1983)

by on 2012/07/09

“Know that it’s a Toronto skunk,
my jurisdiction.”

* *

Strange Brew puts me in an awkward predicament. It is both the forerunner and victim of other better movies, most notably its clear benefactor, Wayne’s World.

Unfortunately, while it might have been a titan of Canadian comedy in its day, the competition now leaves it a comparative relic. Its students have clearly kicked the ass of this teacher.

Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas respectively) break free of their SCTV boundaries in favour of more story-driven aspirations. However, like a poet abandoning the limits of form, they often seem both unchallenged and uninventive.

A mouse-in-the-beer-bottle prank results in our leads getting jobs at a brewery. Unbeknownst to them — assuming they are capable of true awareness — the rogue Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) is using the facility as a distribution hub. He plans to ship drug-laced product to Kitchener and, eventually, the world. Then, when a specific musical tone is broadcast, the drinkers will be driven to violence.

It’s appropriate von Sydow would go on to play Blofeld in Never Say Never Again, because the plot comes across a whole lot like Blofeld’s in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Nonetheless, in most other ways that matter, it doesn’t add up to much. It’s almost all nonsense and the decorations are iffy.

Yes, even the half-baked bits of Shakespearean teasing.

Think of its greatest value as being a snapshot of its era, familiar sights and sounds for those who lived back then: stubbies, old logos, yellow cop cars, pre-Tim’s donuts, streetcars, orange Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, pay phones, cigarette machines, CBM computers, photos of Pierre Trudeau and a younger Queen Elizabeth, and Toronto’s pre-Skydome skyline. And listen for the voices of Mel Blanc and Tom Harvey, familiar to any vidiot of the era, as well as Thomas’ brother Ian, and his “Strange Brew” theme song, complete with cheesy vintage synth appeal. It’s an early Eighties phantasmagoria.

But is it worth seeing for nostalgia alone? I love me some nostalgia — I really, really do — yet I’m still not convinced it’s worth the mindless slog.

Sure, it has some aspirations to be slightly more postmodern but, as with the hints at Hamlet, they’re occasional and brief. Like Wayne’s World nine years hence, it opens and closes with more conventional skits, the actors address the audience, recognize cinematic conventions, and wrap up with an ending credits tag.

Far more often, unfortunately, it descends into childish buffoonery. Literally. Slapstick and rough-housing, pranking and vandalism, and lowbrow moronics galore. Burp, fart, hork, and pee jokes? Check. Max von Sydow not washing his hands in the bathroom? Check. Laser beams, explosions, holographic ghosts, and fat suits? Check, check, check, and check.

Don’t get me started on the flying skunk-dog gag.

The best thing about it by a very long lead is the Mutants of 2051 A.D. sequence. Sadly, it only lasts under two minutes, and is over by five minutes in.

That’s all.

It’s rarely a good sign when I’m pausing the video, and wandering off to do more trivial chores. I love buddy pictures, Canadian Content, comedy, the Eighties, James Bond, postmodernism, and William Shakespeare. I decidedly do not love this mashup, I’m very sorry to say.

This time being at least my third seeing Strange Brew, you’d think it’d grow on me. Well, you’d be wrong. Hopefully it’s my last.

* *

Rated PG

90 minutes

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