Movies We Like
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew
Adding elements of science-fiction and thriller, while referencing everything from Omega Man to Hamlet to Star Wars to the early Canadian gross-out flicks of David Cronenberg, Strange Brew opens with a movie within a movie within a movie. Surrounded by cases of Canadian beer, Bob and Doug host their TV show “Great White North” on the big screen. They run a projector of their homemade “Max Maxy” post-apocalypse flick, which leads to pandemonium in the actual theater where now Bob and Doug sit watching. They refund a distraught father his admission money (his crying kids saved all year to go see the movie), and this gets the real plot rolling—that it was their father’s beer money (the father’s voice is supplied with an amazing voice-cameo by animation legend Mel Blanc).
The dim-witted brothers, in an effort to get their dad beer, travel up to the eerie Elsinore Brewery which sits on top of a mountain next to the Elsinore Mental Institute. They end up getting involved in a mad science and murder plot. As the owner of the brewery recently died in a bizarre accident, his brother Claude (Paul Dooley) quickly married his widowed wife in an attempt to take over control of the brewery empire. But the dead man’s daughter Pam (Lynn Griffin) tries to wrestle back control of the brewery. As she learns more about her family she gets stuck in some “to be or not to be” moments (Elsinore, Hamlet, get it?).
It turns out the evil mastermind behind the brewery is Brewmeister Smith, played by the great Swedish actor Max von Sydow in his American make-some-cash phase of his career, here almost repeating his Ming the Merciless role in Flash Gordon (he would re-class-up his resume afew years later with a wonderful performance in Hannah and Her Sisters). Smith is drugging the beer to turn the people insane (ala 28 Days Later), in a mad attempt to take over the world, or something like that, which also has something to do with video games and experimenting with mental patients on a hockey rink. And that’s all before the film’s brief intermission. To get the meddling Bob and Doug out of the way, Smith frames them with kidnapping, which leads to the film’s best and funniest scenes as Bob and Doug go to jail, stand trial, and end up in the mental institute, perfectly spoofing ‘70s crime TV.
Like Joe Dante’s “It’s a Good Life” segment in The Twilight Zone: the Movie (made the same year as Strange Brew), the film is one big reference to cartoons (and that’s not just because of the voice reference to Blanc). The bullying big brother Doug and the wimpy Bob (a definite influence on Dana Carvey’s Garth in Wayne’s World) are like Heckle & Jeckle as they wisecrack, feud, and often defy physical logic with their antics (even their dog is sloppily painted with stripes to look like a skunk). Maybe a more apt description would put the McKenzie Brothers in the tradition of great comedy duos like Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy, but with a post-modern spin. As would-be heroes they’re just as dim-witted as the classic duos, but as writer/directors Moranis and Thomas (with co-writer Steve De Jarnatt) they’re anything but, and while the film may seem juvenile, underneath is a very smart comedy, with the stars actually wisely spoofing the do-gooderness of classic comedy duos.
At the time only a minor blip on the cultural radar, Strange Brew would not lead to a McKenzie Brothers franchise, though in 2009 Thomas would try to revamp the characters with a short-lived animated series called Bob & Doug (minus Moranis). But like so many ignored films before and since, the magic of home viewing on cable, video, and then DVD has kept the charm of Strange Brew alive for almost thirty years. For fans of SCTV back in the day (1976–84) Strange Brew has always been beloved as a minor-goofball-classic, but new generations have continued to make the discovery. While an Oscar winner like Chariots of Fire has faded as a boring footnote, the strange and wonderful story of McKenzie Brothers lives on.