It’s Beavis and Butt-head times two when four rowdy Canucks hit the road on a car trip through the American West. First-time helmer Grant Harvey has taken a good idea and made the most of it with threadbare resources. marrying a smart script to good young talent. “American Beer” goes down easy, and at least one Canadian distrib may already be asking for a taste.
Our leading lads, all in their early 20s, are cutting loose on a highway spree before going on to vaguely adult responsibilities back home. But their friendships – and various degrees of sanity and intelligence – get strained when their rusty 1966 Corvair breaks down in the middle of nowhere (actually the badlands of southern Alberta). Eventually, they decide to hike in four different directions, each in search of an elusive car part and, perhaps, a life experience.
Drew, played by co-scribe and producer Jordan Kawchuk (who recalls the young Daniel Stern), is the tallest and most sensitive of the group. It’s just his luck to stick out his thumb and get picked up by his old high-school gym teacher, also on vacation. Soon, Drew is sandwiched between this little Hitler and his obese, lunkheaded son, although the nightmare is mitigated a bit by the presence of the coach’s daughter, a punky, pulchritudinous teen (Arayan Starre) looking for a handy way to get back at Dad.
Al (Scott Urquart), on the other hand, is the most macho of the quartet, and his packed-away pistol gets him both in and out of trouble on the journey, especially when he finds a small-town garage which, as it happens, is already being robbed.
Best seg has droop-shouldered Martin (C. Adam Leigh) stumble into a hayseed tavern, only to find that the locals mistake him for John Hughes creation Ferris Bueller. Despite his every attempt to dissuade them (“But I’m not Matthew Broderick,” he protests; “Never hearda him” is the surly reply), the gormless Northerner has to put up with free drinks and commands to “Say somethin’ funny, Ferris!”
Least successful section has chin-whiskered Curt (Jason Thompson) sticking with his broken-down car. Sun-addled and stoned on pot, he’s visited by a Kerouac-like prankster (Brent Kawchuk) who spouts bad Beat poetry and offers homely advice about cruisin’ through life. Ambitious seg sags only because it’s not clear what pic-makers want to say with it, whereas others can be taken on face value.
On the whole, the story unfolds in a lifelike way, without too much cuteness intruding. Perhaps the different plot strands could have been intercut for more variety of tone, but helmer’s choice to keep them separate helps make this calling-card item simple, where most neophyte road movies meander into episodic nether worlds. Tech credits are rough and ready, with alternarock score adding to easygoing hipness factor. Pic could click with youth set, although 16mm format is likely to keep this particular Corvair from getting too far.