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‘Beerfest’ won’t give you much of a buzz

Broken Lizard film plays out more like a series of sketches
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Beerfest” is like tapping a keg that’s had a bumpy ride to the party: The first pints keep coming up pure foam, with so much undrinkable froth you begin to wonder why you bothered showing up.

Gradually, things settle down, you start to get an inch or two of tasty amber in the glass beneath that thick white lather. Eventually, though the tap still sputters through the evening, you get some really nice pours, rich glasses of lager with just a crew cut of a lathered head.

The movie from the comedy troupe Broken Lizard plays out just like that: dreadful at the outset, without a laugh in sight, but slowly improving as the gang manages some genuinely funny jokes and sight gags.

Pushing two hours, “Beerfest” is much longer than a gross-out romp about extreme drinking games should be. So many of the bits fail to click that the movie could have stood 20 minutes or more of cutting, with sharp improvement in the pacing.

Still, “Beerfest” lifts Broken Lizard back on par with its 2002 mini-hit, the cop spoof “Super Troopers,” a significant rebound after the troupe’s execrable 2004 slasher-film parody “Club Dread.”

The movie is written by and stars the five-man team — Jay Chandrasekhar, Erik Stolhanske, Paul Soter, Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme. Director Chandrasekhar infuses loose, goofy, sketch-comedy energy through much of the movie; he’s clearly more at ease working with his old pals than he is as a filmmaker for hire, as he was directing last year’s woeful “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“Beerfest” opens with such a weak, obnoxious prologue, it’s surprising the Broken Lizard boys are able to rebound and win viewers back as well as they do.

Brothers Todd and Jan Wolfhouse (Stolhanske and Soter) are dispatched by their great-grandma (Cloris Leachman, doing a bad reprise of her German accent from “Young Frankenstein”) to scatter the ashes of their beer-patron grandfather at Oktoberfest in Munich.

There, the siblings stumble on a secret Olympics-style drinking competition called Beerfest, where they incur the wrath of their German relations, a brewing family that drinks them under the table and sends them packing back to America.

Todd and Jan vow vengeance and begin a yearlong training regimen with old drinking buddies Barry (Chandrasekhar), a master at beer games who has fallen on hard times; Charlie (Lemme), a lab tech who becomes the brains of the operation; and Landfill (Heffernan), a tubby lout with infinite chugging capacity.

With its thin plot, “Beerfest” plays out as a series of skits and set pieces, most of them clunkers, a lot of them gross and even repellent (does any movie need two gags about masturbating a frog?). But as the movie progresses and the gang’s beer training grows sillier, Broken Lizard pulls out some hearty laughs here and there.

And more so than their previous movies, “Beerfest” showcases the collegial playfulness the Broken Lizard members have honed from working together for so many years (their ride aboard a bicycle built for five after a hard night’s boozing is a small gem).

The supporting cast is led by Mo’Nique as great-grandma’s saucy caretaker and Juergen Prochnow as patriarch of the German branch of the Wolfhouse family, whose grandsons add sparks of humor with their shrill Yankee-bashing.

Not a great party but not a bad party, “Beerfest” unfolds like a decent college kegger, the best moments coming late in the carousal, as more suds are quaffed, inhibitions loosen up and everything starts seeming funnier.