Strange Brew (1983)

*. What a flashback for me. Or does it qualify as nostalgia? It’s been so long.
*. The characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis) were not a big part of my childhood, but they were memorable. I watched them on SCTV. I didn’t have their comedy album but I heard it enough times. I can remember watching Strange Brew with people who knew all the lines.
*. I don’t think I’ve seen Strange Brew since then. That is, in over thirty years. To my surprise I enjoyed seeing it again. But the decades may have helped. Not that the humour has aged well, but because at the time the Great White North shtick was wearing thin and getting tired. Not having heard it, or even about it, for so long made it less annoying.
*. The set-up is pure stooge comedy. Bob and Doug are the classic dumb and dumber pairing, Bill & Ted before Bill & Ted, and Wayne and Garth before Wayne and Garth. That said, I also find this to be a very weird movie, but in a good way. It’s not just unrestrained in its bending of reality and slapstick (especially at the end), but surreal. The weirdest part is the way the crazy people who have been drugged with a special beer are made to play violent hockey games while being controlled by organ music. That’s strange. Not particularly funny, but hard to forget.

*. Another weird thing is the Hamlet parallel. Apparently Dave Thomas wanted the story to be based on Hamlet, but then asked to open things up more when the first draft of the script was too faithful to the play. My question is what the point of all this was anyway. So the brewery is called Elsinore and the guy who owns it is killed by his brother, who then marries his widow and takes over the beer-making business. The murdered owner then appears to his daughter as an electronic ghost. This might have been interesting, but nothing is done with any of it and the character of the uncle and especially the mother are wholly disposable. The real villain is Max von Sydow’s Brewmeister Smith.
*. Bob and Doug hear the following sermon while touring the new, fully-automated brewery: “Welcome to 1984. The age of automation and unemployment. The rise of the machine and the fall of man. The end of the human era.” We laughed at that in the early ’80s. Oh, we hadn’t seen anything yet.
*. Overall, it’s still cute. There are a few hits and a lot of misses. The romance between Rosie and Pam never shows the faintest spark. Max von Sydow doesn’t get to do anything interesting. Really, the movie only works, when it works at all, when the boys are on screen. The rest is just padding. Still, it moves pretty well even when it’s not going anywhere and remains an essential bit of Canadiana. Thirty years from now I suspect it will still have an audience. Or cult. Yes, it’s very much a movie of its time, but the weirdness has endured.

26 thoughts on “Strange Brew (1983)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Bill McKenzie Shakespeare was the third McKenzie brother. He went on to a pretty distinguished career. This probably was Max’s best work to date, but who’s to tell what he’ll be surprising us with from beyond the grave?

  1. Bookstooge

    I cannot believe this, you reviewed a movie that you actually semi-enjoyed!

    Moranis was a big hit or miss for me. I liked him in Space Balls, Ghost Busters and Honey I shrunk the kids. I’ve blocked out the ones I didn’t like 🙂

    1. Alex Good Post author

      This was earlier than any of those, and it’s really raw. Not raw as in indecent, but as in production values. Looks like an SCTV movie. But it’s fun.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        SCTV was the comedy show that Moranis and Thomas (and John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, etc.) got their start on. It was great.

      2. fragglerocking

        I’m older than Alex and I don’t remember SCTV. Mind you I don’t remember WW1 either. But then, I don’t remember a lot of stuff so there’s that.


        SCTV wasn’t a thing for US in the UK, but it was possible to catch up via YouTube much like Saturday Night Live. It meant that films like Strange Brew made barely a ripple when they came out on VHS since the household names featured were fairly alien to us.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        SCTV in their heyday were the smartest, funniest thing on TV. Way better than SNL at their best. But I never thought of Bob and Doug as being one of the must-see skits. And they were the ones that got the movie. Strange how that works out.

      5. Alex Good Post author

        I always thought SNL was overrated, and the classic stuff hasn’t aged as well. SCTV though is still gold. I crack up every time Bobby Bittman (Eugene Levy) comes out and says “How ARE ya??” on the Sammy Maudlin show. Damn the Sammy Maudlin show was great.

      6. Alex Good Post author

        WWI, also know as The Great One, was mostly boring, but when the Hun started shelling I personally beshat myself.

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