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Movie Review

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Frat boy flick ‘Beer in Hell’ is crude, rude, but not stupid

By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / September 25, 2009

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For what appears to be a remake of “The Hangover’’ made by drunk, entitled frat boys using their parents’ credit cards, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell’’ is slightly better than it should be. For Tucker Max, this possibly represents a triumph.

You haven’t heard of Tucker Max? Not for lack of trying. A 33-year-old guy with a law degree from Duke, he has won fame and fortune telling foul-minded tall tales of his sex life and drinking binges on his website and in the pages of a best-selling book. The more sordid and politically incorrect Max gets, the more he’s adored by his following: college guys who think body fluids equal truth and women who like bad boys at the expense of their self-respect.

Who hates Max? A lot of people: most women, a lot of men, op-ed columnists, and the Chicago Transit Authority, which last week removed crass bus shelter posters promoting “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,’’ thereby giving the movie more publicity than ever. Max protested but unconvincingly; he knows stunts like this only solidify his rebel credentials to an audience that doesn’t want to think too much.

Anyway, how’s the movie? Ridiculously cheap-looking, smug, scurrilous, but fairly evolved for a project so fundamentally unevolved. Actor Matt Czuchry plays Max with a sleepy Cheshire cat grin, wandering from one boozy conquest to the next and trying to score a personal trifecta by sleeping with a deaf woman, a blind woman, and a mute. (The first takes up the film’s opening scene; it’s the perfect aisle-clearer for anyone in the audience with actual taste.)

Max stands for unrepentant groin-centric hedonism; his best friend Dan (Geoff Stults) is the upstanding groom-to-be, although unlike most grooms in most bachelor party comedies, he’s allowed to have a personality. The third point of the triangle is Drew (Jesse Bradford), recently dumped by his fiancee and venting his anger in bitter, hyperarticulate rants against all women. Drew’s the litmus test: Unless you can laugh at an intentionally outrageous line like “Not all women are sluts, just most of them,’’ you should stay at home; it’s not worth rising to Max’s bait. Still, this man wonders why he’s accused of hating women?

The threadbare plot follows the three friends out of town to a legendary strip club - legendary to Tucker, anyway - and complications ensue. As road comedies go, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before and a lot you have: This movie joins “The Hangover’’ and “The Wrestler’’ in suggesting that a modern guy’s best chance for true love is with a single-mom stripper. The Freudians should have a field day.

What “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell’’ isn’t, surprisingly, is stupid. Misogynistic, infantile, smug - but not stupid. Max’s dialogue is acrid and smutty, but there’s a mind back there, one that mistakes trash-talk for subversive honesty (when it’s actually the opposite of subversive) but that also sees the limitations in being Tucker Max. In one bar scene, the hero faces off against a crew of women, putting down the humorless one (who’s not a babe, of course) but getting shut down by the others when he goes too far. Later, Max even has to face up to the shallowness of his ways and apologize to his friends.

In other words, Tucker Max - the real one, not the onscreen version - turns out to be a closet moralist, if only because he knows that’s the only way he’ll be able to sell himself to the mainstream. He’d better hurry up, though. A 33-year-old man stuck in college is not a pretty sight, and Max’s 15 minutes are just about over.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

I HOPE THEY SERVE BEER IN HELL Directed by: Bob Gosse

Written by: Tucker Max, based on his novel, which is based on his website

Starring: Matt Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 105 minutes

Rated: R (nudity, strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout, language and some crude material)

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