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Inductee: Strange Brew

Rick Moranis (left) and Dave Thomas, as the characters Bob and Doug McKenzie. (CP PHOTO).
Rick Moranis (left) and Dave Thomas as Bob and Doug McKenzie. (CP Photo).

Reason for Induction:
For taking the piss out of CanCon, putting the beer (back) in Shakespeare — and being a beauty movie, eh.

Citation:
Somewhere, behind granite battlements, beyond impenetrable gates — indoors — something evil is brewing. And it isn’t Elsinore beer. Here, an unsuspecting heiress has become the innocent pawn of a diabolical genius. At his command: space-age super-lasers that can incinerate an entire metropolis, [and] an army of deadly hockey warriors. At his fingertips, lots of beer. What fool dares stand in his way?

Actually, fools. The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (1983) tells the story of two beer-addled brothers (Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis) who thwart a sinister plot to rule the world via mind-controlling lager. The movie’s theatrical trailer, cited above, did little to tip viewers that it’s a loose — very loose — remake of Hamlet: The McKenzies (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) take jobs at Elsinore Brewery (Elsinore Castle), where they befriend Pam (Hamlet), the brewery’s new majority owner following the suspicious death of her father, John Elsinore (Hamlet’s dad). Pamlet’s mother Gertrude (Queen Gertrude) has already been remarried, to her dead husband’s bumbling brother Claude (Claudius, played by classic character actor Paul Dooley). The only piece that doesn’t fit the Hamlet homage is “diabolical genius” Brewmeister Smith, gleefully overacted by a slumming Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Three Days of the Condor, a big heap of Bergman).

But enough intellectualism — Strange Brew was made by and for hosers. Moranis (Bob) and Thomas (Doug) had invented the McKenzies during their days at SCTV. The characters came in response to federal government requirements to include “identifiable Canadian content” in homegrown television programming. To that end, the brothers embody every negative Canadian stereotype. In the film they dress in tuques, plaid shirts and parkas, talk funny (“Take off, eh”), drink too much (“My brother and I used to say that drownin’ in beer was like heaven, eh? Now he’s not here, and I’ve got two soakers.... This isn’t heaven, this sucks!”) and generally carry on like, well, hosers (“Gimme a toasted back bacon, and hold the toast”). The trailer’s promised “super-lasers” never show up, but why quibble with so much to love in their stead: like, say, Mel “Bugs Bunny” Blanc as the voice of the McKenzies’ dad.

Needless to say, Bob and Doug were wildly popular with SCTV’s audience. The boys’ recurring skit, “The Great White North” (a.k.a. “Kanadian Korner”), debuted in 1980 as a two-minute bit only intended for Canadian audiences, but was soon included in American versions of the show. The act snowballed to a comedy album, 1981’s Great White North (reportedly recorded in one four-hour session, with the assistance of a great many beers), and then Strange Brew, which claimed the Golden Reel Award, for Canada’s highest-grossing domestic film, at the 1984 Genies.

Strange Brew fits nobody’s definition of perfect, but, to be perfectly frank, any Canuck who doesn’t bond with Bob and Doug is asking — no, begging — for a steamroller.

Matthew McKinnon writes about the arts for CBC.ca.

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