The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew

Dir: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, 1983. Starring: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Max von Sydow, Paul Dooley. Comedy.
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew
Movies that originate as television sketches and skits usually lead to lame products: A Night at the Roxbury, The Ladies Man, Stuart Saves His Family (has anyone ever heard of or seen the Laugh-In spin-off The Maltese Bippy?), to name but a few of the forgettable titles. There have been a few good exceptions: The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, and even The Coneheads has its admirers. The most unusual adaptation of a skit and a very special movie in its own right is the Canadian flick The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew, which emanated from Saturday Night Live’s northern and usually better little cousin SCTV. The characters, Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas), became SCTV’s first breakout stars and even a minor cultural phenomenon with their catchphrase “take off, you hoser.” Like Wayne’s World years later, they were a couple hicks—brothers who hosted a public access cable show called “Great White North” and the jokes usually centered on Canadian stereotypes and their love of beer and hockey. Though their minor-hit song “Take Off” (with Geddy Lee of Rush) might have caused a bigger ripple then their movie did, over the years Strange Brew has found more fans and can now be appreciated for what it is, an incredibly goofy but lovable laugh-out-loud comedy.

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.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Nov 16, 2011 5:57pm
Always Free Shipping on
Amoeba Accepts Paypal - Start Digging!
Subscribe to Vinyl News
x Sign-up for emails, sales alerts & more:



New customers, create your account here. Its quick and easy!


Don't want to register? Feel free to make a purchase as a guest!

Checkout as Guest

Currently, we do not allow digital purchases without registration



Become a member of It's easy and quick!

All fields required.

An error has occured - see below:

Already have an account? Log in.


Forgot Password

To reset your password, enter your registration e-mail address.


Forgot Username

Enter your registration e-mail address and we'll send you your username.


Amoeba Newsletter Sign Up