In Theaters: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Movieline Score: 7
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I wasn't going to review I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, but then I checked out the Rotten Tomatoes page for the adaptation of Tucker Max's testosterrific memoir romp. "Might be the most hypocritical feature in the history of film," groans one wag. "Rarely fails to be excruciating," sniffs another. And of course, "If ever a movie needed a restraining order issued against it, it's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." Clever, but hold it just a minute, fellas! We've got a lowbrow milestone, no doubt. But on that basis alone -- not to mention that Beer in Hell is fitfully entertaining -- I wouldn't send Max off to the Hague just yet.

After all, even the scaliest, coldest-blooded reptile demands reckoning. And in the pop-culture jungle from whence Beer in Hell came, Max may be that beast. The filmmakers know it, as does leading man Matt Czuchry, and they all proceed in a way that acknowledges that scoundrel influence without the faintest hint of apology. After his introductory tryst with a deaf girl (the first of many fetishes to be ruthlessly pursued and indulged, Tucker riffs around as a kind of postmodern Ferris Bueller: All guile, charm and shamelessness, as capable of derailing his law class with spotless rhetoric as he is with his small talk. He engages in a lot of the latter with his best friend Dan (Geoff Stults), a groom-to-be whom Tucker wheedles and primes for the bachelor party of a lifetime.

Alas, the party involves lying to Dan's fiancee (Keri Lynn Pratt) and undertaking an odyssey to a mystical stripper den where Tucker, Dan and their recently dumped, toxically misanthropic pal Drew (Jesse Bradford) can get handsy with the merchandise. Anyone who's compared their ensuing travails to The Hangover (and again, there are plenty of them) shows an even more suffocating lack of imagination than the one they'd probably ascribe to director Bob Gosse and Co. After all, Todd Phillips made a detective story, and Gosse made what amounts to a war movie: Tucker, Dan and Drew are three buddies on a mission, facing (and returning) sniper fire from the opposite sex until the morality of their quest flickers, refracts, and finally folds in on itself.

It's not all that believable (the film's subtitle is "Based on a True Story... Unfortunately"), but hey, neither is Platoon in retrospect. Anyway, you're watching for the violence of the thing -- and boy, is it ever violent, from Drew's nihilistic fusillades ("This is going to fail worse than a Friends spinoff") to Tucker's scorched-earth attack on a bachelorette party across the bar. By the time the boys take their village offensive to the strip joint, the camouflage is wearing off, and one dancer with a lacerating wit and a Halo fetish (natch) devastates Drew's defenses. Dan, meanwhile, crashes and burns in jail while Tucker gets what he really came for, which... well, forget it. Let it suffice to say that bonds are breached. And breeches are soiled.

That climactic, literal shitstorm punctuates Beer in Hell with fitting temerity. Czuchry and Gosse follow Max to the bracing outer limits of physical comedy, defying the hijinx-and-one-liners orgy that preceded them. It really is the logical terminus of bad taste's final frontier, and that it's thoroughly revolting can't detract from the feeling that it's thoroughly sincere. Whether you laugh at this or anything else in I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell mostly depends on how willing you are to take that trip with them. If you are, I promise you'll find rewards. If you're not, that's fine, too. At least you'll have a cute Rotten Tomatoes zinger to show for it.



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