Greatest Beer Run Ever -- Photo Apple TV+
Greatest Beer Run Ever — Photo Apple TV+

While America’s involvement in the Vietnam War remains controversial, films like “The Deer Hunter,” “Apocalypse Now” and Ken Burns’ documentary have reflected on the conflict’s psychological aspects. So “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is a refreshingly entertaining comedic drama, focusing on a crowd-pleasing, behind-the-scenes glimpse of a globe-spanning beer run.

After a stint in the Merchant Marine, John ”Chickie” Donahue (Zac Efron) retreated to his family’s home in the close-knit , Irish-American community of Inwood in northern Manhattan, where he spent most of his time drinking and carousing at a local pub. 

One night in 1967, the patriotic bartender, known as The Colonel (Bill Murray), said, “Somebody ought to go over to ‘Nam, track down our boys from the neighborhood, and bring them a beer.” Reckless Chickie immediately volunteered to make the journey, much to the chagrin of his sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) who marched with anti-war protesters.

Using his seaman’s credentials and toting a duffle bag full of Pabst Blue Ribbon brew, he optimistically hopped on a cargo ship bound for Vietnam. After two months at sea, he self-confidently wangled a three-day pass to find his buddies. Because an idiotic officer (wide-eyed Matt Cook) mistook him for an undercover CIA agent, Chickie was able to get military transport – which landed him in the war zone.

“What the hell are you doing here?” blurted one of his buddies. “You don’t have to be here – and you’re here!” Shortly afterwards, as shell-shocked Chickie realized the State Dept. had lied about winning the war, his naïve attitude changed.

But when his ship left port earlier than expected, Chickie was stranded. Hoping for help, he turned to the U.S. Embassy just as the Viet Cong attacked Saigon, launching the Tet Offensive. That’s when a cynical, yet empathetic war correspondent (Russell Crowe) tossed Chickie a camera and told him to pretend he was Press.

Based on “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donahue and J.T. Molloy, it’s adapted with rollicking respect by Brian Currie, Pete Jones and director Peter Farrelly (“The Green Book”), who delicately navigate the moral and political turmoil.

One particularly memorable interlude has Chickie befriending a Saigon traffic cop (Kevin K. Tran), who hopes someday to visit Oklahoma because he enjoyed the musical. And credit scenes show the real Chickie and his four friends – now old men – still celebrating his beer run.

Full disclosure: my son, Don Granger, is one of the film’s producers.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is a charming, satisfying 7, opening in select theaters on Sept. 23rd and streaming on Apple TV+ starting September 30th.

Pinocchio -- Photo Disney+
Pinocchio — Photo Disney+

If you have young children, they’ll probably enjoy Robert Zemeckis’ live-action/animation reboot of “Pinocchio,” starring Tom Hanks and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

This timeless tale opens with Jiminy Cricket (Gordon-Levitt) singing “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which was first introduced in the 1940 cartoon.  After fashioning a boy marionette made of pine, the lonely, widowed woodcarver Geppetto (Tom Hanks) makes a heartfelt wish for a ‘real’ son.

Cue the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Ervo), who animates the marionette. But Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) still isn’t a ‘real’ boy. To do that, he must prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish.

When the world is full of temptations, being ‘good’ requires a conscience – which Pinocchio lacks. So Jiminy Cricket must guide his integrity. That isn’t easy since fun-loving Pinocchio tends to be disobedient. And whenever he tells a lie, his nose grows longer and longer (did you know that there’s even a long-nosed emoji for lying?).

Mischievous, gullible Pinocchio encounters various distractions – like when he’s ambushed by a crafty fox (Keegan-Michael Key) or lured to Pleasure Island by the evil Coachman (Luke Evans).

Loosely based on “Pinocchio’s Adventures: Story of Puppet,” it was originally published in 1883 as a collection of dark stories by Italian author Carlo Lorenzini under the pen name of Carlo Collodi. For this version, it’s been reimagined by Chris Weitz and director Zemeckis who created the entirely new character of Sophia the Seagull (voiced by Lorraine Bracco).

This being a Disney property, you’ll note how Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks have Disney characters, including Woody from “Toy Story,” Roger Rabbit, Donald Duck, The Lion King, Dumbo, Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs.

Pinocchio’s story has been previously modified for film 18 times, including two live-action movies starring Roberto Benigni – and Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s version should come out soon.

“Seldom has a work of literature been so overshadowed by its celluloid adaptations,” wrote John Hooper and Anna Kraczna in their introduction to their recent Penguin Classics translation. According to them, the story’s message is: “Get educated, get informed, and don’t let other people pull your strings.”

On the Granger Gauge, “Pinocchio” is an enchanted 6, streaming on Disney+ as a Premium Exclusive.

Confess, Fletch -- Photo Miramax
Confess, Fletch — Photo Miramax

“Confess, Fletch,” the reboot of the cartoonish character that Chevy Chase made famous back in the 1980s, is perhaps the most utterly boring piece of celluloid rubbish that I’ve had the misfortune to sit through in a long, long time.

Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher (Jon Hamm) is a former investigative reporter now researching a book in Rome. He’s romantically involved with an heiress, Angela Di Grassi (Lorenza Izzo), whose art collector father has been kidnapped. At her behest, Fletch travels to Boston to find the Picasso painting that his captors demand as ransom.

To his dismay, Fletch discovers a dead woman on the living room floor of the elegant, art-filled townhouse Angela is ostensibly renting. A call to the police brings a skeptical, sleep-deprived detective (Roy Wood Jr.) and his clumsy partner (Ayden Mayeri) onto the scene of the crime.

One of Fletch’s encounters is with an unscrupulous, germ-phobic art dealer (Kyle MacLachlan), another with his wacky neighbor (Annie Mumolo) and a third with a self-involved lifestyle guru (Lucy Punch). Complicating matters, the heiress’ Italian stepmother (Marcia Gay Harden) keeps trying to seduce him.  

Based on Gregory McDonald’s 1976 novel, it’s ineptly adapted by Zev Borow and stumbling director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”). Many of the pointless episodic scenes make no sense whatsoever and the pacing is listless at best. As a result, the 98 minute running time seems endless. 

Perhaps the more intriguing mystery is why – considering the fact that Harvey Weinstein is now incarcerated – the Miramax label adorns this project, released under the Paramount Pictures banner. 

The ill-fated film’s only redeeming feature is the playful, laid-back charm of Jon Hamm, particularly when he briefly trades barbs with John Slattery, his “Mad Men” cohort, in an all-too-brief newsroom scene. 

On the Granger Gauge, “Confess, Fletch” is a tedious 2, playing in theaters until it transitions onto Showtime.

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)