The Summer of '83: Strange Brew -

The Summer of '83

Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring: Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Max Von Sydow, Lynne Griffin, Paul Dooley and Angus MacInnes
  • Written by: Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis and Steven De Jarnatt
  • Directed by: Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis
  • Studio: MGM Studios
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83: Strange Brew

"Take off, eh!"

By Rob Vaux     August 19, 2013

 Our story begins, as it so often does, with idiots in suits. One fine day in the early 1980s, the executives in charge of Canada's SCTV sketch show issued a demand. There wasn't enough "Canadian themed' material in the show, despite the fact that it was being written by Canadians, produced by Canadians and performed by Canadians. “We need more Canada,” they told a bunch of comedians to whom a challenge like that is the last thing you'd ever want to issue. Two of them, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, cheerfully obliged them.

The result was Bob and Doug McKenzie: a sort of North-of-the-border Cheech and Chong who embodied every negative Canadian stereotype imaginable. Chatty, drunk, not too bright, and clad in omnipresent winter gear no matter what the weather, they proved a surprising hit... which naturally led to a big-screen movie appearance.

One can't fault Strange Brew for ambition, which posits a not-so-subtle revamp of Hamlet set at a sinister brewery and featuring Bob and Doug as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Seen by the cold light of day, it's pretty bad... but such a weird and unique bad that you hesitate to condemn it. As with Cheech and Chong movies, it does best when you view it in an altered state of consciousness, though cheap brewskis are clearly preferred over more potent chemical concoctions.

In short, Bob and Doug bumble their way into jobs at the Elsinore Brewery, whose owner has died under mysterious circumstances and left the plant to his only daughter (Lynne Griffin). This gets in the way of the brewmeister's sinister plans to develop a mind controlling beer and take over the world. The fact that said brewmeister is played by Max Von Sydow should tell you everything you need to know about this movie.

Thomas and Moranis served as co-directors, as well as starring and co-writing the screenplay with Steven De Jarnatt. They took a cue from the way the original sketches were written: slap-happy and improvised, with occasional moments of brilliance shining through amid a whole lot of dross. It helps that their characters hold a certain lovability: fools lost in a big, bad world whose slings and arrows can't dent the alcohol-soaked fog in which they live. The best parts of Strange Brew tie into their permanently dazed condition, helping us to shed the weight of our own troubles and embrace their blissful ignorance.

Pity that the rest of the film can't quite find that tone. It throws out an eclectic collection of weird gags, ranging from a hockey game played in stormtrooper outfits to a family dog who sprouts a cape and flies in the final act. (My favorite bit is one of the first: the boys' homemade post-apocalypse movie-within-a-movie that seems to mock the chicken-wire-and-string aspects of the whole endeavor.) It works only if you don't care about little things like plot and story... which, if you're in the proper state of inebriation, is probably the last thing from your mind.

That gives Strange Brew the exact same flavor and tone as the holy fools at its core: boorish and irritating at times, but possessing a good-natured heart and concerned only with having a little fun. It defies ordinary notions of good and bad, because no one in their right mind would call it a success. But it's definitely different and while it called for a supremely forgiving audience, its aw-shucks nature might just be enough to buy such a reprieve. I'm glad this didn't become a phenomenon: a little Bob and Doug goes a long, long way. But I'm also glad these two knuckleheads went ahead and did it. Frankly, I was sold the moment the MGM lion gave out an inebriated belch. We fans be not proud, though we will not lightly abandon our defense of this cinematic goof. If you have to ask why, you're probably better off just skipping it.


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marcd30319 8/19/2013 4:43:44 AM

 Ah, the summer of 1983.  The greatest year in film since ... 1982.  Can't wait for 1984.

ElBaz13 8/19/2013 4:52:03 AM

I'm loving these "summer of" series, especially in the 80s as I was just a kid and beginning to go to the movies on a frequent basis. It was also cheap at $1.50 per movie for a kid.

Strange Brew, Definitely a cult classic. As a Canadian, I was glad to see this movie at the time and had many viewings on VHS, quoting many parts of the film. It is soooooo Canadian!

Max Von Sydow! That was pretty neat to have.

This movie has one truly WTF moment. When Hosehead the dog rolls up the roof of the house. Not sure what the scene was meant for but f.uck that was funny.

goldeneyez 8/19/2013 5:15:39 AM

I vaguely remember seeing Strange Brew as a kid.  I seem to remember the dog taking a really long piss after drinking a bunch of beer.  I do remember him donning a cape flying at the end of the movie.

ObiWannaJones 8/19/2013 6:21:35 AM

I completely forgot about the belching MGM Lion.  That is a classic in movie history.  I have fond memories of the old Second City Television on PBS - before it got big and moved onto NBC (and went downhill).  in my neck of the woods, it was on at 10:00, right before Monty Python.  It was a classic hour of fun.

HomestarRunner 8/19/2013 7:50:23 AM

Like goldeneyez, I vaguely remember seeing it as well, yet for reasons I can't fully explain, I think of it fondly whenever it comes up (which, granted, is not often).

I distinctly recall watching SCTV, however, and always enjoyed The Great White North sketches...not to mention Bob and Doug's hit single "Take Off" with Geddy Lee from Rush and their version of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Long live the McKenzies!


VermithraxPejorative 8/19/2013 10:21:05 AM

I loved the 80's!! High School from 82 - 85, and College from 85 - 89. Went to a TON of movies during the decade! Best. Decade. EVAR!!!

redhairs99 8/19/2013 10:47:39 AM

Always loved this movie, no matter how technically "bad" it is.  Damned if it wasn't fun.

Moz72 8/19/2013 7:17:07 PM

Rob, how about covering "Up the Creek' (1984) and "Summer School"(1987)

vagabondster 8/19/2013 8:09:58 PM

 while i do appreciate the 80s, and their classical cult cinemas . Do we have to wait anoyher 10 years for the 90s? Lol j/k..vaguely remembef this one as a kid snd have a strange desire to watch it once again as an adult so i can truly understand or cringe at its humor, whichevrr the caee may be

InnerSanctum 8/20/2013 8:04:52 PM

 Loved this film.  Still love this film.  Deserves an A.

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