Twelve years ago, the USA Network aired a made-for-cable movie starring Zach Morris about dudes that kidnap and torture a space alien. Over the ensuing decade, it was all but forgotten about…until now.
“Beer Money” is one of those obscure things you cab cherish, and all for reasons that have nothing to do with the production itself. As a movie, even by made-for-cable standards, it’s pretty lackluster, but because of the film’s timing, it has gone on to become something really, bizarrely transcendent as a pop culture offering.
When it was originally aired, “Beer Money” has a ton of hype behind it. If you watched anything on the USA Network during the summer of 2001, odds are, you saw at least three commercials for the film during whatever was on, be it an episode of “La Femme Nikitia” or the nine billionth airing of “Child’s Play 3.” The astounding thing is, once it was aired, I recall it never being played on the network again -- considering all the hullabaloo the network made about it being their first in-house comedy original, that’s really, really perplexing. I suppose the ratings for the move weren’t that impressive, and I can’t imagine its reviews being positive by any stretch of the imagination, but for something to have that much advertising behind it to get abandoned so suddenly is beyond aberrational.
I guess the thing that makes the film stand out to me is that it’s one of those rare pop cultural relics that embodies what I consider the “last days of innocence” for Generation Y…that being, the summer before 9/11 completely inverted the global, geopolitical paradigm. All in all, this thing has been more or less vacuum sealed in a part of history that was so naively simplistic, an aspect made all the more intriguing due to its proximity to the most magnitudinous day of the 21st century (thus far, anyway.) In that, “Beer Money” is sort of like a time capsule catching the pre-9/11 world in a flash-frozen, 90 minute-long video; in some ways, it’s like catching what was on TV, the night before JFK got assassinated, or the day before Nixon resigned from office. You want to see what it was like, I suppose, just to see what things were like before.
From what I recollect, I think I enjoyed the film when I saw it way back when. Then again, my favorite TV show at the time was a toss-up between “Shasta McNasty” and “Guinness World Records Primetime,” so of my opinions a good 12 years ago, make what you will. Of course, it’s been about a decade since the film surfaced, so when I found a rare copy of the flick swimming out there in Internet land, you just KNEW it’s something I had to revisit. So, does it still have that same naïve charm that I recalled, or has Father Time eroded its retroactive appeal altogether?
|Needless to say, the post-Kelly years have been rough for Mr. Morris...|
The movie begins with the main character, played by Mark Paul-Gosselaar (yes, the same actor that portrayed Zach Morris on “Saved by the Bell”) attempting to order a burrito at a Taco Bell facsimile. The two nincompoops behind the counter try to sell Gosselaar’s character a disgusting taco, and then it’s revealed that all three of the guys are actually high school buddies. You see, Gosselaar’s character -- named Timothy, but periodically referred to by other characters in the film as “Timbo” -- just lost his job as a weatherman in Los Angeles, and had to swallow his pride and return to his hometown of Eureka, California. Since it’s the year 2001, he’s also rocking the Ric Flair-platinum white Eminem/that dude from the Offspring hairdo. The trifecta then swig some of each other’s backwashed beer -- which isn’t homoerotic or anything -- while pop-punk plays loudly in the background. By the way, I really hope you like pop-punk a’la Libel and Alkaline Trio, because that kind of stuff literally plays on the soundtrack throughout the entire movie.
So, Timothy has to move in with his sister and her husband, your stereotypical mechanic-type named Crash. To help soothe Timothy’s concomitant ills, he and his old buddies decide to head up to the woods for the weekend, all the while speaking in this bizarre slacker-speak tongue that nobody actually utilized back in the late 1990s. But before that, he runs into an old classmate -- a former geek turned hottie named Echo -- and stares at her boobs for awhile. Later on, his buddies ask him if he’s in pursuit of “nerd nookie,” which to me, sounds like something Hershey or Mars ought to mass manufacture. One of Timothy’s pals shows off his Ted Nugent-branded crossbow, and inadvertently punctures their truck’s radiator (clearly, not to be a plot point later on) with an arrow. Then, the trio play “hog dice,” this bizarre game involving plastic farm animals, with the characters taking gross bets (some of which border on outright bestiality) depending on the outcome of their throws.
About a half hour into the movie, the boys watch a UFO land, from which a chunky, Glo Worm-faced creature emerges. The alien explores the campsite a little, shoving various snacks into his maw, before the campers start tossing lit M-80s at him. The alien reaches for what appears to be a laser cannon, and one of the characters retaliates by shooting the being in the head with an arrow. After making various allusions to the female anatomy using such delightful euphemisms as “hot pork salad” and “geek stank,” the trio decide to sell the alien’s corpse on a “Sightings”-like TV show, which, wouldn’t you know it, just so happens to be in town for some reason or another. To give you an idea just how early 2000s this movie is: when discussing potential prize money purchases, two of the characters debate whether they should spend the cash on a PS2 or hire Britney Spears to perform fellatio on them.
|"Beer Money," at the time, was quite revolutionary, with the network spending upwards of tens of dollars on special effects alone.|
The three head to a bowling alley, with the alien creature stuffed in a giant camping bag. As it turns out, however, the alien isn’t quite dead, so the boys do what any humane soul would do -- they grab a few bowling pins and start bludgeoning it. With concerned on-lookers peeping at them, the boys come up with a fairly ingenious excuse: all that talk about “killing an alien” was actually them discussing the final level of the arcade game “Area 51,” which is prominently displayed throughout the entire scene.
So, Crash finds the alien laser cannon thing, and the other boys visit a shop owned by a conspiracy theorist dweeb. Meanwhile, Timothy returns to the video store where Echo works, and the two have a touching moment, complete with your clichéd, uplifting music swelling in the background. The problem is, Timothy suddenly experiences explosive diarrhea, and wouldn’t you know it, the store’s toilet is broken. After a nearly three minute sequence that puts that one Jeff Bridges scene in “Dumb and Dumber” to shame, Timothy shows his amour for Echo by stealing a video camera before he leaves the building.
Meanwhile, the conspiracy nerd (whom has a Nintendo 64 box displayed prominently on his work desk) tells Timothy’s pals that they’ve killed a “Zeta Warrior” alien, which may or may not have been responsible for killing JFK or some other bullshit. After the boys leave, the nerd is chased, in slow-motion, by a gaggle of kids, who subdue him with Matrix-like kung-fu kicks (earlier in the film, the same kids were introduced as a bunch of newspaper boys, who routinely liked to egg the taco stand from the film’s opening sequence.)
|Like many stars of the 1980s, E.T. was just a shell of his former self by the time the 2000s kicked off.|
The trio reunite, and they make fun of the tribe’s dorkiest member for having a personally edited “Star Trek” video designed specifically for masturbatory purposes. Echo shows up announced, and thinks the boys are filming an underground gay stag movie. Thinking that she’s referencing the alien kidnapping from earlier, one of the character congratulates himself for “drilling him with my bushwhacker,” in probably the movie’s funniest sequence. As it turns out, heat, for some reason, brings the alien back to life, so the new quartet decide to resuscitate the creature with hairdryers. Meanwhile, the conspiracy nerd from earlier is interrogated by the kids about the existence of the alien being. After pushing his head into regurgitated milk, he finally caves in and tells them about the creature, which is dubbed “Greenie” by Echo and the boys.
About an hour into the movie, the alien -- which bears an uncanny resemblance to both the creature from “Mac and Me” as well as Baby Sinclair from “Dinosaurs!” -- finally gets some significant screen time, with the boys chasing him around the house with toilet brushes as it makes various proto-Meatwad cutesy noises. Echo tries to hide Greenie from the boys, but they attack him with golf clubs instead.
So, Crash has his offer to sell the alien laser cannon rebuffed by a producer of the paranormal TV show, and two of the boys interrogate the alien by force-feeding him, Mos Def-style, Day-Glo paint and aluminum foil. Timothy and Echo share another pseudo-intimate moment, until the newspaper boys show up. Two of the guys decide to take them out, “Double Dragon-style,” but not before they manage to kidnap Greenie and take them back to their hideout -- where he proceeds to puke on them.
So, word spread about the alien’s existence, and a mob quickly assembles. A bicycle chase riffing on “E.T.” ensues, with the boys sticking it to the newspaper kids with M-80s, and then a couple of follow -up Indian burns for good measure. Greenie’s UFO returns to the hilltop, and he and Timothy have one final heart-to-heart conversation about what “home” means. As it turns out, that laser cannon from earlier wasn’t a weapon at all, as it was revealed that the device was actually a universal translator that the boys were too stupid to turn on the whole time. So, Greenie takes off in his UFO right before the masses arrive. Timothy lies to the producer of the tabloid TV show, and the conspiracy nerd gets chased out of town for being a hoaxer. And after the main characters realize they could’ve sold Greenie for millions instead of thousands, the film comes to a conclusion.
|Upon seeing the final print of his own movie, it's safe to say "Greenie" was none to pleased with the outcome.|
Well, I really can’t say the “Beer Money” was a great film, by any stretch of the imagination. The plotline was pretty uninspired, the dialogue pretty cheesy, and the special effects -- perhaps not surprisingly -- were really lackluster, even for a TV-production from the timeframe. I guess you have to give props to Gosselaar, though, for carrying the film pretty much single-handedly. Had he not been in the film, it’s pretty much a given that the film would’ve fallen even flatter than it already did, so Zach Morris? You did a good job, which may have been even better than the one Mario Lopez put on in that one USA network show about beach police on bicycles from roughly the same time period.
Even though it’s a fairly unremarkable movie, I guess you could give it a few points for sheer nostalgia value. It was nice seeing the blatant N64 and “Area 51” product placement, and I really miss the post-”American Pie” semi-un P.C., mean-spirited chatter that, in today’s post-”Glee” society, would likely be considered offensive and derogatory. That, and there’s a few truly funny moments, that you will chortle at, no matter how lowbrow the material is. I suppose the real tragedy of “Beer Money” is that it’s just so average…it ain’t good, but it ain’t really bad either. Mediocrity -- even with a bit of retro goodness -- is still mediocrity, I am afraid.
Two and a quarter stars. Jimbo says check it out.