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'Beerfest' is dregs of summer comedies

Making a comedy that celebrates binge drinking and cretinous behavior isn't a crime against nature. Making one that's as brutally unfunny as ``Beerfest" is.

The new movie has all the comic sparkle of a keg that's been left out in the sun; it's recommended only to those who really need to see a dirndl-clad Cloris Leachman stroke a bratwurst. If you find window-rattling beer belches a riot, too, you're in.

``Beerfest" is the fourth feature from Broken Lizard (``Super Troopers," ``Club Dread"), the comedy troupe that came together in the 1990s at Colgate University's Beta Theta Pi. That's fitting, since the group's brand of farce suggests a frat skit with a bigger budget.

The five members -- Jay Chandrasekhar (who directs), Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske -- are enthusiastic, but there isn't a natural comedian in the bunch. Chandrasekhar comes closest and it seems like he'd do anything for a laugh, but give your buddies a camera and a case of frosties and you'd probably do just as well.

``Beerfest" follows the misadventures of the Wolfhouse brothers, Tod (Stolhanske) and Jan (Soter), who travel from Colorado to Munich after the death of their beloved grandpapa (Donald Sutherland, getting three laughs, his paycheck, and leaving). They want to return his ashes to the biergarten from whence he came; instead, they stumble upon a secret beer-drinking Olympics hosted by nasty Baron Von Wulfhausen (Jurgen Prochnow), who tells them that grandpa was a whoreson stableboy who stole the family's prized beer recipe and fled to America.

Humiliated by the baron's handpicked team of snotty Bavarians, the Wolfhouses retreat across the pond and field their own team of chuggers . Landfill (Heffernan, a bargain-bin Belushi) is the belly of steel; Finklestein (Lemme) the nerd scientist and strategist; Barry (Chandrasekhar) the ex- beerpong whiz fallen on hard times and turning tricks under a bridge.

The cast is rounded out by Leachman as the brothers' great-grandmother and Mo'Nique as her sass-tastic caregiver Cherry, neither of whom is what she initially seems. A sex scene between Barry and Cherry offers the Broken Lizard approach in a nutshell: nubile fantasy breasts, gross-out gags, and embarrassment all around. At least the frog-masturbation sequence has decent comic timing.

The climactic face-off at the biergarten has a few giggles, too, but more for the baroque ridiculousness of the drinking games on display: the Bat-Spin, the Monkey Chug, Thumper. (If all these ring a bell, then guess what? You're an alcoholic.) One of the Bavarian meanies is played by Will Forte of ``Saturday Night Live" and the movie shares that show's lame-duck idea of comedy: noisy, repetitive shtick and a belief that referring to party-hearty hedonism is the same as being creatively funny about it.

It's not, but it flatters the complacency of the film's target audience and upholds the time-honored collegiate notion that getting hammered is an act of rebellion. A big hangover awaits these folks; for the rest of us in the audience, the hangover is now.

Ty Burr can be reached at

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