Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell -- Terrible Adaptation

I hadn’t even realized a movie had been made based on the Tucker Max stories. I spotted this one while browsing through the Direct TV guide the other night, and DVR’d it to watch later.

First, a little bit of background. When I was in law school, I fairly regularly read Tucker Max’s web site. (This was in the 2003-2004 timeframe, when he used to blog and update his site with new stories on a fairly regular basis.) I found his stories amusing in the way I found similar stories told by my male friends amusing. And I always thought Tucker Max had a good way of telling the stories and making them seem more interesting than they really were, when stripped of the embellishment. (And I do believe that while they are all likely based on some truth, there is embellishment. In no way do I believe that he shit all over the lobby of the Embassy Suites in Austin, TX. I do believe that maybe he shit his pants while trying to find the bathroom.)

At some point – before I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was published – I moved on and stopped reading his web site. When I saw the book in the bookstores a few years ago, I laughed and noted that the title was clever. But, I didn’t buy the book. At least half the stories from it are still posted on his web site, and there are really only so many “I got really wasted and then…” stories that a person can read.

At any rate, I watched the movie yesterday morning. Unsurprisingly, the stories don’t translate well to film. The trick to the success of the stories (and in my opinion why the book reached the New York Times Bestseller List) is how they are told, not what actually happened. It’s hard to incorporate that particular style into a film, when you aren’t inside the character’s head in a way you are while reading a story. I have the same problem with Bret Easton Ellis’ books that have been made into movies. It’s the same reason why Catcher in the Rye would make a terrible movie. (Note: Tucker Max is not in the same league as Ellis or Salinger, but those are the best comparisons I can come up with right now.) The underlying stories simply aren’t anything unique, intriguing, or new. It’s all in how the story is told.

The fact is, what actually happened (and hence the driving plot of the movie) isn’t all that interesting, and generally consists of events that probably half the college age men in this country have experienced. Probably everyone has had ridiculous experiences while drunk, and probably everyone has at some point had a disturbing conversation.  The events are clichéd, as is the movie. We’ve seen it all before in Dumb and Dumber, American Pie, The Hangover, Superbad, etc. Worse, the entire point of the Tucker Max stories is what an asshole he is, and how much enjoyment he gets out of being an asshole. The movie completely fails to address this, other than through a few scenes of the Tucker character making what are supposed to be witty and assholish comments to women. Funny? Not really. Steve Stiffler was more entertaining.

The movie tries to make Tucker Max likeable – an impossible task – and incorporates a storyline of his friend inexplicably falling in love with a stripper (in the nearly unwatchable Halo scene) and a his other friend getting into trouble with his fiancé for lying and ending up in jail. Lord, how many times have we seen this clichéd plot? This movie is simply another “group of male friends goes to strip bar one falls in love one lands in jail and then one of them gets married at the end” stories. And Tucker Max finds redemption. Are you kidding me? In short, the tone of the movie does not match the tone of the stories at all, and that’s probably its most fatal flaw. At least attempting to stay true to the spirit of the stories might have resulted in a better adaptation.

Altogether, it was a really boring movie, and I didn’t laugh once. (By contrast, I do laugh at the stories in print.)  Maybe that's why I had absolutely no idea that this movie had even been made.

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