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.