Written By Warren C. Bennett
This is another piece of mine I wrote for a now defunct website called Retro Guava. It was an Australia site that sold retro themed shirts. I did a series of retro movie reviews for the site that focused on films coming out between 1980 and 1995. Strange Brew came out in 1983. I’ve edited the article a bit for content. – WCB
I should title this piece “Everything I know about Canada I learned from Strange Brew.” Whenever I think of my neighbors up north, I can’t help but put on my toque while drinking lots of Elsinore Beer and eating many a fine sausage. The shaping of my knowledge of Canadian society has come from the mouths of my fine Canadian friends and this small early 80′s comedy sketch film.
The full title of the film is “The Adventures of Bob and Dough McKenzie: Strange Brew.” For those not in the know, the Brothers McKenzie are a comedy duo created by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis on an old Canadian comedy show called SCTV. The movie is a sequel, of sorts, to the best selling album the two comedians recorded as Bob and Doug. As the movie starts the brothers have been tasked with creating a motion picture based on their material. Unfortunately for those that asked, Bob and Doug aren’t the smartest fellows and end up creating a movie much like modern day fan fiction. The audience at the theater showing the film riots and police are called in with Bob and Doug barely escaping with their lives. In the ensuing escape, one of the brothers gives all the money they have on them to a grieving father and his two children that are seeking reparations. The money was supposed to be used by the duo to by their father booze after the movie première. Bob and Doug’s father finds out about this and tasks the brothers with procuring him some alcohol the next day. Eventually, the brothers end up saving the life of a young woman who just happens to be the daughter of the recently deceased owner of the local Elsinore Brewery. The two are given a job at the brewery and are told they can bring home all the free beer they want. The remaining of the ‘plot’ takes place at the brewery. It involves the young lady’s uncle, the brew-master, the insane asylum next door and a former hockey great named Jean “Rosie” LeRose.
Let’s get this out of the way: This isn’t a serious movie. It is a slapstick comedy based on a skit from a variety comedy show. Much like the Blues Brothers or Wayne’s World, Strange Brew often feels like a bunch of skits tied together with a bit of an overarching plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the film does what it does very well. It isn’t trying to be an academy award nominee for best picture. It is a silly film that just wants to entertain the audience with goofy humor.
I do love this movie but often with comedies like these I have to be in the mood to watch them. I know all the jokes in the movie, I’ve seen it many times over the past twenty-five years. Strange Brew is one of those movies that I like to watch when I’m feeling a tad blue and need to be cheered up. The comedy is very often groan inducing and over the top. There are jokes include one about a flying dog and a humongous Doug McKenzie drinking a vat of beer to save the life of his friend. yet, the comedy never feels forced or raunchy like I see in many modern comedies. There is a bit of blue humor, but it is mild compared to what is heard on the television or internet. With a plot that comes directly from Shakespeare, Strange Brew is a bit deeper than the viewer might think. This is reflected within the setting with names like Elsinore Brewery, a father that haunts his child to make things right and a scheming Uncle that marries the deceased father’s wife not even a day after his death. Hamlet would be very familiar with these elements.
One of the things I love about watching movies from the 80′s is seeing technology of the time. This film is infused with futuristic retro tech, from five and a half inch floppy disks, to old home computers and an early synth keyboard. There is also a nod to the booming arcade scene at the time with an Asteroids machine, a fake game made for the movie called Galactic Border Patrol and some pinball machines. Also heard, but not seen, is the death sound from the class Pac-Man coin-op. This makes my retro heart fill with glee when I see this type of material on the screen.
I’m also glad this movie has shown me so much of early 80′s Canadian culture. I now feel secure in calling people posers, telling them to “take-off” and continuous use of “eh” after every statement. This movie is a fun one that is good to view when a good old school comedy is desired. not everything in the movie is realistic but it is a decidedly fresh comedy, especially when compared to stale modern movie comedy market.