One of my first reviews for this site was a book review on Tucker Max’s autobiographical recounting of several stories of varying debauchery. The first time through, the book is a raucous, sleazy, often hilarious journey through this guy’s life as basically a championship asshole. The book doesn’t hold up as well as I’d anticipated on subsequent readings once the initial shock and hilarity wears off, but that first go around is fantastic.
And then I heard they were optioning it into a film, and I got worried. Were my fears justified? Unfortunately, they were.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell isn’t a completely terrible movie by any means, it’s just a majorly frustrating one. The book works on the strength of the series of stories Max has to tell, and the differences between them. They’re short, they flow well, and are entertaining as hell. The film decides to structure itself into one long narrative focusing on Tucker’s friend Dan’s Bachelor Party and subsequent wedding, while throwing in pieces of stories from the book that I didn’t recognize as being connected, mainly because they aren’t. Everything in the film is based on a true Max story, but the overall narrative of the movie is tailored to connect the dots of stories that aren’t exactly connected. I hate that approach, and it seems lazy and blatantly disrespectful of its intended audience (i.e., people who read the book).
Matt Czuchry plays Tucker Max, and his performance is fine. He’s Ivy League Stifler, with a ton of money and a vast vocabulary. The real scene stealer is Jesse Bradford as Drew, but even that character provides plenty of frustration. If Drew is based on Sling Blade from the book, which I believe he loosely is, they completely sell him out by having him bang a stripper and enter a relationship with her within a few hours of meeting her. Still, Bradford is great and is the overall biggest reason to see the film.
The film actually starts off well enough. For about the first third of the movie, I found myself a tiny bit frustrated with the narrative, but it was at least entertaining. As soon as Tucker, Drew, and Dan enter the strip club in Salem, the movie completely loses its mojo.
The initial scene in the strip club, which involves Tucker and Drew exchanging insults with a handful of strippers, seems to drag on for an eternity. They just work their way up and down the coach, between Max’s direct sexism and Drew’s brooding sense of humor. The jokes could have worked, but the volume of them takes away from the overall impact of the humor. The strip club literally eats up almost the entire middle third of the movie, and it’s here that the everything begins to flail.
Perhaps the biggest mistake the film makes is letting the real Max collaborate on the screenplay. He’s a talented writer and I like his style, but the temptation is too great for him to embellish with the film version of the character, especially with the dialogue. The dialogue in the book is minimal, and the humor works because it isn’t reliant on the dialogue to carry the story. The film wants to rely entirely on dialogue, and it gets a tad verbose in the middle and ending sections. Max had no official screenwriting credentials, and perhaps him just assisting with the production and handing it off to a skilled screenwriter would have at least improved the structure and flow of the movie.
Honestly, unless you read the book you won’t want to see this. And if you read the book you’ll only be disappointed. The narrative is frustrating and the dialogue is too self-indulgent. It was obviously rushed into production, and I don’t doubt that had their not been such a rush to strike while the iron was hot, the quality would have actually improved. I think the book, had the real Tucker Max been up to it, would have worked great as a half-hour show on HBO, where the smarmy, intellectual dialogue coupled with the overall crassness of the situations could have worked in a more abbreviated medium. As a feature film, it’s unnecessary.
Score: 4.0/10 (Disappointing and frustrating)