Beto O'Rourke/Facebook

On November 8, Texas will vote for its next governor — choosing from either incumbent Republican Greg Abbott or Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

In anticipation, the two will participate in a debate on September 30, which takes place at 7 pm at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. It's hosted by KXAN news anchor Britt Moreno and will feature questions from a panel of journalists.

The debate will air on Nexstar television stations which in Dallas is KDAF Channel 33; the Texas Tribune will also livestream.

It's their only scheduled debate and according to the Associated Press, Abbott conditioned his participation on the debate taking place without an audience.

"Sources tell me Abbott would only agree to face Beto with no audience in the room," said journalist Scott Braddock, in a tweet which is right here:

This will be first time Abbott and O'Rourke meet since the May 25 press conference where O’Rourke confronted Abbott after the shooting in Uvalde.

O'Rourke, who previously undertook a summer tour across Texas, holding 70 public events in more than 65 counties, is now launching a College Tour focused on young voters. It includes visits to two Dallas-area campuses, with only one open to the public, as follows:

  • Monday October 3, 10 am: Town Hall at University of North Texas, at the University of North Texas - Gateway Center Ballroom, 801 N. Texas Blvd., Denton. Open to UNT students only.
  • Monday October 3, 12:30 pm: College Tour Town Hall at Dallas College El Centro Campus, 801 Main St., Dallas. Open to the public.

During the College Tour, he'll hold more than a dozen public events at colleges and universities around the state, affording an opportunity not only for him to share his platform — reproductive freedom, reducing gun violence, raising minimum wage, legalizing marijuana — but also an opportunity to get students and young people registered before the October 11 deadline.

Photo courtesy of Afterimage Gallery

Last chance to grab a tree for free and more news around Dallas

City News

Busy busy week around Dallas with many decisions made and money spent by the Dallas City Council, including an approval of the annual budget and a $4-million incentive to prop up an old music venue. Early voting is coming in anticipation of an election on November 8, and the city is giving away free trees.

Here's what happened in Dallas this week:

Convention center vote coming up
On August 10 the Dallas City Council approved a special election on November 8 to vote on an expansion of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas and improvements to Fair Park, including the Automobile Building, Centennial Hall, Fair Park Band Shell, Music Hall at Fair Park, Cotton Bowl Stadium, and Fair Park Coliseum. If passed, the hotel occupancy tax rate will be increased by 2 percent.

These improvements and rehabilitation projects will be funded without impacting the City’s general fund or increasing property taxes. The City of Dallas has committed to making good faith efforts to spend 20% of the revenues derived from the new 2% hotel tax increase for the Fair Park facilities venue projects as allowed by state law. Current estimates of $300 million in proceeds represent the largest investment in Fair Park since construction for the Texas Centennial Exhibition in 1936.

New budget
At a September 28 meeting, the Dallas City Council approved a budget for 2022-2023 of $4.75 billion. The budget is $400 million higher than last year's.

It'll fund an increase in minimum wage for city employees from $15.50 an hour to $18, plus 250 new police officers and five more animal services officers to respond to calls about loose dogs.

It goes into effect October 1.

Longhorn Ballroom win
Predictably, the Dallas City Council approved to give more than $4 million in incentives to the developers lwho are redoing the Longhorn Ballroom. The venue is owned by Edwin Cabaniss, who also owns Kessler Theater who plans to turn it into a multi-use entertainment center. He owns the full four acres upon which the Longhorn Ballroom sits, and will spin multiple listening spaces out of the building. The main room’s capacity would run from about 1,000 to 2,500 people, while another space, off to the side of the main room, would evoke the cozy confines of the Kessler. Out back, Cabaniss is planning something tentatively called the Longhorn Ballroom Backyard, an outdoor space capable of holding around 5,000 people. Construction is set to begin in October with an opening slated for mid-2026.

Voting machines
Collin County Election officials will hold a public test of voting machines on October 7 at 10 am at the Elections Department, 2020 Redbud Blvd. #102. Known as a logic & accuracy test, the test is designed to ensure that voting systems are calibrated and count correctly for the upcoming mid-term election. Texas law requires public testing of the voting machines be done before and after every election to ensure the machines count votes accurately. The public is also invited to attend and perform a similar test of their own by casting ballots using the voting equipment, and verifying the accuracy of the voting system by comparing a hand count of the ballots cast against the vote totals counted on the voting equipment.

Early voting
Early voting locations, Election Day vote centers, sample ballots and more can be viewed here. The last day to register to vote in November in Tuesday October 11. Early voting runs Monday, October 24 through Friday November 4. Voting day is Tuesday November 8.

Free trees
Dallas is reprising Branch Out Dallas, its bi-annual tree giveaway designed to encourage the planting of hardwood trees in the city. This initiative began in March 2019, and has returned every spring and fall on a semi-regular basis to dispense thousands of trees. You need to be a homeowner in the city of Dallas, and must register here with your Dallas Water Utilities account number. There were six kinds of trees, but they’ve already run out of two (the Mexican oak and the redbud which everyone chooses because it has purple flowers). But you can still get these four excellent trees: American elm, Cedar elm, Chinquapin oak, or a statuesque sycamore with large leaves and beautiful white bark. (They have photos here.) The trees will be available for pick up on Saturday, November 5. The original deadline to get one was September 30, but they’ve pushed it back to October 6.

Oak Cliff golf course reopens
Cedar Crest Golf Course, an iconic Oak Cliff course, reopens after months of renovations that include the addition of Legends Plaza, a homage to Walter Hagen, 1927 PGA Champion, and Charles Sifford, 1954 UGA Negro National Open Champion. There are greens, bunkers, updated natural grass driving range, and a banquet area. A.W. Tillinghast designed the historic 18-hole course that was the site of the 1926 Dallas Open and 1927 PGA Championship. In 1954, Cedar Crest hosted the UGA Negro National Open and USGA Public Links Championship.

Texas' toxic waterways
A new report finds that Texas has the highest amount of toxic releases into waterways, and Environment Texas is calling for dramatic pollution reductions to protect rivers and streams. According to a release, industrial facilities dumped 16,778,747 pounds of toxic chemicals into Texas waterways in 2020.

Called "Wasting Our Waterways," the report is from Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. Big polluters include the Austin-Oyster watershed south of Houston, which ranked first in the U.S. for discharges of cancer causing chemicals to waterways; and Pilgrim's Pride Corporation's poultry processing plant in Mount Pleasant, which ranked first in Texas and 10th nationally for total toxic discharges. Dow Chemical Co.'s Freeport Facility south of Houston is also highly toxic.

Photo courtesy of Bumble

Texas-based Bumble reactivates 'Voter' badge ahead of midterm elections

Voter Bees

Whether your style is dating other passionate voters or convincing unregistered citizens to sign up with your charm and good looks, Bumble just set a target for you. To make sure the midterm elections are getting as much attention as possible, the Texas-based dating app is adding a “Voter” Badge for users who commit to vote in the upcoming race.

“We hope this will lead to interesting, impassioned, and civil conversations,” says a press release by Bumble celebrating National Voter Registration Day in partnership with I Am A Voter. The Austin-based company adds that it’s supporting an existing user behavior. “We found that last year, those on Bumble within the United States selected Filters such as ‘Dating Intentions,’ ‘Politics,’ ‘Religion,’ and ‘Family Plans’ most widely on the app to prioritize finding a partner with shared values and intentions.”

Voters already have a year-round way to show their vigor on their Bumble profile, in the “interests” section, which also adds badges ranging from activism to hobbies and favorite things. In this case, the existing “Voting Rights” Badge implies a viewpoint in current discussions about voting practices — great for those who are really informed, but some users who are excited to vote may not feel equipped to discuss those systems in detail. The registration badge keeps it simple; either you are registered to vote, or you are not. Users will see a "profile" while swiping that will allow them to add the badge.

This badge is not new to the Bumble user interface. In 2016, the dating app rolled out a feature to declare support (and apathy) for one party or another via a temporary sticker, followed by an “I am a voter” Badge in 2018 that went mostly unpublicized, although OkCupid got a little more attention with its own nearly identical feature in 2020, perhaps because of the more hotly contested race.

Some activist groups have used dating apps for similar purposes even without the handy feature, sending members out with messages on their profile inviting other users to match for information or encouragement. On a more self-preserving level, it’s not uncommon to come across an earnest profile encouraging potential matches to swipe left (eliminate themselves from consideration) if they voted for a particular candidate. With the use of a Badge, users can filter preferences through the system, saving a lot of time reading potentially annoying declarations or matching with someone who didn't think to bring it up.

Similar news almost always creates some level of moral panic in news stories, urging young daters to look past their political biases. But political values affect everything from how to raise kids to how to make them — or not. Joan from accounting is probably willing to expound on her differing political views, if you’d rather come home and debate something simpler, like whose favorite show goes on tonight.

Photo by Getty Images

Once-sizzling housing market cools down and more Dallas news

City News Roundup

This roundup of news around Dallas includes a welcome update on the housing market, some info about a seminar on college loans, a toast to volunteers, and a State Fair of Texas 2022 milestone.

Here's what happened in Dallas this week:

Loan forgiveness
Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins and the Department of Education are hosting a webinar targeted to former and/or current government and 501c3 employees to learn about recent time-sensitive changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. If you work for a government entity or 501c3 nonprofit and have been repaying student loans for nearly 10 years or longer, you may qualify for a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Waiver. It'll take place September 26 at 10 am. Interested parties can register here.

Habitat volunteers
On September 8th, Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity held a dinner to honor volunteers. Over the past year, they had 4,300 volunteers who contributed over 50,000 hours of service. The celebration took place at the Dallas Arboretum and dedicated time to honor those who have been serving for 15, 25, and 30 years.

TWF grants
Texas Women's Foundation invested nearly $9.2 million in advocacy, programs, and grants during its fiscal year of July 2021-June 2022. That includes $7,102,079 to 223 nonprofits and $2.1 million in programs to create leadership opportunities for women and girls. For a complete list of grantees, visit txwf.org/grants.

Big Tex drop
NBC DFW has a video of Big Tex, the State Fair of Texas mascot, being dropped into place in anticipation of the opening on September 30. The figure has a new "shirt" and "jeans," words used loosely since this is not an actual person but instead a construction made of wire. A rep for the fair says that 80 percent of the activities are outdoors but that masks must be worn indoors, wonder how that'll go down.

Housing buzz dims
The Dallas-Fort Worth housing market is cooling down, say real estate agents. The market has shifted due to higher interest rates and more inventory available. An agent says there are more homes on the market, forcing sellers to reduce the price, with homes now on market for an average of 24 days, twice as long as 2021 when a house was typically on the market for 2 weeks. A market review by the Collin County Association of Realtors for August says that sellers were forced to negotiate and accept offers for less than their asking price for the first time since January 2021.

The kindof-bummer is that we're now in a pricier new market. Agents say that the $300,000 to $400,000 range has become the standard that they do not see that going backward or the other way.

Photo courtesy of Longhorn Ballroom

A proposal for what to do with Longhorn Ballroom leads this Dallas news

City News Roundup

This roundup of news around Dallas includes a proposal for what to do about the I-345 freeway, and another proposal for the Longhorn Ballroom, which needs money from Dallas to execute. A festive downtown event is making a comeback, but so is a scam perpetrated on Dallas water utilities customers. There's a new garden in the works, as well as a community center in Deep Ellum.

Lots to catch up on, here's what happened in Dallas this week:

I-345 highway hybrid
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has settled on a "Refined Hybrid" plan for I-345, the freeway that divides downtown Dallas from Deep Ellum. It would bury the freeway in a trench (similar to US-75), with at-grade streets and bridges, providing opportunities for decking caps, parks, or commercial development. It was one of five options they considered. The Dallas City Council will vote on the Refined Hybrid design on November 8.

Deep Ellum community center
Deep Ellum is creating a community and cultural center that would house Deep Ellum nonprofits, history exhibits, incubator space, podcast center, conference room, workshops, and neighborhood walking tours. They've leased a space at 2528A Elm St. where during September they will set up camp on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am-4 pm to accept donations and loans of Deep Ellum artifacts. They're looking for items of historical or sentimental value that tell a piece of Deep Ellum's story, for a project called "Deep Ellum Lost & Found," and welcome anything dated from 1873-2022.

Longhorn Ballroom plan
There's a proposal for Dallas' landmark Longhorn Ballroom to turn it into a performance venue with indoor and outdoor options. The overall cost would be $14.3 million, but they want $4 million in subsidies from the city of Dallas, which is maybe why they delivered the story to the Dallas Morning News to do their bidding. The plan would involve an outdoor venue holding 2,000-5,000 people and an inside venue holding 1,000-1,500, similar to the capacity of other venues in town such as House of Blues, Studio at The Factory, Lava Cantina, Legacy Hall, Grandscape, and more. No shortage of venues that size, but the Longhorn is old and people are willing to pay $$ for nostalgia.

Dallas Water Utilities fraud
Dallas Water Utilities has issued an advisory that fraudsters are again making fraudulent phone calls and sending text messages in both English and Spanish from a phone number claiming to be from DWU. The phone number appears as 214-651-1441, which is the actual DWU Customer Service main number, so you can see where it would be confusing. The calls try to trick people into make a "payment" on their account. A first round of these fraudulent calls occurred in July 2022. What is going on with Dallas Water Utilities?

Parking day
After a two-year hiatus, September 15 marks the comeback of another PARK(ing) Day, an event that shuts down Main Street so that schools, organizations, and businesses can transform metered parking spaces into artsy installations. It's part of an international movement that champions the need for public space. The Dallas event is centered around Pegasus Park, at 1500 Main St. and takes place from 11 am-6 pm.

New public garden
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Texas Discovery Gardens are launching the Food and Pollinator Learning Garden at Texas Discovery Gardens, funded by the NRCS People's Garden Initiative. It'll have 450 square feet of raised gardening beds and 2,500 square feet of circulation and gathering space for classes and demonstrations centered around the importance of pollinators and food crops. Why not flip it to 2,500 square feet of gardening beds and 450 feet for the gabbing and the demos?

Photo by Shelley Neuman

An expert's trail guide to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival in Austin

Everything is Political

Believe it or not, politics can be fun, even if it’s all you talk about for days. The Texas Tribune is proving that once again with incumbent CEO Evan Smith’s last Texas Tribune Festival. From September 22-24, this long-standing annual event will bring together more than 350 influential speakers for more than 100 panels, from politicians in office to journalists and cultural wave-makers.

“It's become a major part of the Tribune's brand,” says Smith. “An important person I respect said to me in 2019, looking around the festival that year — the last year we did it in person — that we used to be a news organization with a festival, and we're becoming a festival with a news organization. And I thought, I'm actually okay with that.”

Smith announced his impending departure from the Tribune in January 2022, in a simultaneously wistful and tongue-in-cheek farewell address that acknowledged his “sentimentality and nostalgia.” He will be finished with his tenure by December, but will continue through 2023 as a senior advisor to his yet-unnamed replacement.

“I will be sentimental about it being my last. Of course, I'm also nostalgic, and I'll be nostalgic about the early days of the festival,” says Smith. “But one of the great things about leaving the Tribune now is that everybody here is in the best possible position to carry the important work that we've been doing forward to the next 13 years. And so I'll be watching like everybody else, with a lot of pride.”

This year, the festival broadened its scope from 2021 and earlier to include even more interests tangential to politics, aiming for the same bullseye as the Tribune always does: the average reader. The festival is always as jargon-free as possible, this year including topics like Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner’s memoir and 50 years of cultural change, retired top tennis player Andy Roddick’s opinions on the duties of nonprofits, and singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett’s experience as a Texas legend.

To help attendees start building their itineraries (or give keen readers at home some things to research), Smith selected the following must-attend events for CultureMap readers to keep on their radar.

Thursday, September 22
Thursday is a shorter day with “a couple of sessions to get peoples’ appetites going,” according to Smith. Of the 10 events, he chose two not to miss:

A Conversation with Katy Tur
9:30 am - 10:30 am

The MSNBC anchor will discuss journalism with Smith himself, with special attention to her recent second book that stretches all the way back through her childhood, Rough Draft: A Memoir. This chat will be in-person, kicking off the festival.

One-on-One with Anthony Fauci
10:30 am - 11:30 am

This prerecorded conversation is only available virtually. Smith interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the U.S. president, about the “layered” public health emergencies of COVID-19 and monkeypox as it emerges.

Friday, September 23
This mid-size day has 43 scheduled sessions. Smith chose one from each time slot:

One-on-One with Glenn Youngkin
8:45 am - 9:45 am

The Virginia governor is, in Smith’s words, “one of the big Republican success stories of the last couple of years,” and will be interviewed by senior correspondent David Drucker of the Washington Examiner. Some speculate that Youngkin will run for president in 2024.

The Forward Presents: One-on-One with Deborah Lipstadt
10:15 am - 11:15 am

U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt is talking about the issue nationally and worldwide, interviewed by Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Ruth Warren.

One-on-One with Walter Isaacson
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tulane University professor Walter Isaacson discusses Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and his current work with Elon Musk. He is interviewed by Pushkin Productions CEO Jacob Weisberg, former editor-in-chief of the Slate Group.

One-on-One with Hillary Clinton
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is interviewed by New York Times podcast host Kara Swisher about progressive values in the United States. Swisher runs the Vox Media Code Conference, and is no stranger to the stage.

One-on-One with Ben McKenzie
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Austin-born actor and writer Ben McKenzie is one Austinite speaking out on a large scale about “the case against crypto” as the city grows more and more entangled with it. He is interviewed by Bloomberg Digital executive editor for news Joe Weisenthal.

Saturday, September 24
The longest day of the festival, Saturday hosts 68 sessions. Smith chose one for each time slot:

After Roe
8:45 am - 9:45 am

This panel addressing one of the hottest topics in recent politics is run by Ana Marie Cox of The Cut, and features Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson, Texas state representative Donna Howard, and former state senator Wendy Davis, famous for her abortion filibuster.

One-on-One with Annette Gordon-Reed
9:00 am - 10:00 am

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Harvard professor Annette Gordon Reed discusses the legacy of slavery and the morals of studying history. She is interviewed by Errin Haines, editor-at-large for The 19th, founded by former Tribune editor-in-chief Emily Ramshaw.

One-on-One with Ted Cruz
10:30 am - 11:30 am

U.S. Senator and Texan Ted Cruz is slated to talk on Saturday, although he hasn’t yet been matched with a conversation partner. He’ll talk about tension with the Biden administration, the “soul” of the Republican party, and a possible reprisal of his 2016 presidential campaign.

One-on-One with Chris Bosh
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

NBA Hall of Famer Chris Bosh is interviewed by ESPN commentator Kirk Goldsberry on sports, being retired, and voting. Bosh has spoken out about social justice, and always ties it to a message of using one’s voice to create change.

Below the Line
2:15 pm - 3:15 pm

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and urban development Julián Castro joins former mayor of Stockton, California, Michael Tubbs and ProPublica-Texas Tribune investigative reporter Vianna Davila to discuss Texans living disproportionately below the poverty line.

One-on-One with Gavin Newsom
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

California Governor Gavin Newsom takes a leadership role, telling MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner about what the rest of the United States can learn from his state. The Democratic governor leans toward messaging about innovation and creating precedent-setting big change.

Tickets for the Texas Tribune Festival ($269 general admission) from September 22 to 24, both virtually and in venues across Austin, are available at texastribune.org.

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Top-ranked high schools make the grade in this week's 5 hottest Dallas headlines

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this weekend? Find that list here.

1. 2 distinguished Dallas high schools sit at head of the class as Texas' best in 2022. Two campuses in Dallas have earned extra credit as the best high schools in Texas. In the latest rankings from education review website Niche, Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented & Gifted tops the list of the state’s best public high schools, and St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas leads the list of the state’s best private high schools.

2. NFL legend Terry Bradshaw's ranch north of Dallas listed for $22.5 million. An Oklahoma ranch around 70 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth that’s owned by NFL Hall of Famer and Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw is back on the market for $22.5 million. The 744-acre ranch was relisted after a deal with a would-be buyer fell through.

3. Dallas grilled cheese restaurant abruptly closes location in Oak Cliff. A Bishop Arts restaurant dedicated to making grilled cheese sandwiches has closed: The aptly named Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. closed its original location at 310 W. 7th St., after nearly eight years. According to co-owner Diana Ezzell, the closure was prompted by problems with the location.

4. Best vegan grocer in Denton relocates to market-deli space. An acclaimed market in Denton specializing in all things vegan is making a move: Mashup Market, the plant-based specialty grocer that debuted at 316 Oak St. in 2020, is closing that original location and making its new headquarters at 1302 W. Hickory St., its second location that opened in 2021.

5. Dallas man allegedly scammed $26M from Chinese real estate investors. A Dallas-area man has been charged for allegedly scamming Chinese investors out of more than $26 million in a real estate scheme. Timothy Lynch Barton, the 59-year-old president of real estate development firm JMJ and CEO of real estate investment firm Carnegie Development, has been indicted on seven counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of securities fraud.

'Wide-awake' Dallas neighbor is 2nd best U.S city for families, says Fortune

No place like home

Fortune advises readers to not let Wylie’s “picturesque, historic downtown fool you.” And for good reason. The magazine hails the North Texas city as “a fast-growing, modern community that doesn’t skimp on the amenities.”

Thanks in large part to those amenities, Fortune puts Wylie at No. 2 on its list of the 25 best places in the U.S. for families to live. Ann Arbor, Michigan, takes the top spot.

In recognizing Wylie, the magazine cites the city’s well-above-average public schools, numerous facilities for older residents, and events such as the Bluegrass on Ballard festival and Wylie 500 Pedal Car Race.

"With its start as a stop on the Santa Fe Railway in the 1880s, Wylie has always been a gathering place," the magazine writes. "In fact, because shops stayed open late to accommodate the railway visitors and business, one of the town’s nicknames became 'Wide-Awake Wylie.' The historic downtown continues that tradition of community today..."

Fortune lists the median home price in Wylie as $399,838 and the median household income as $96,845. The booming suburb is home to nearly 60,000 residents. It now stretches across Dallas, Collin, and Rockwall counties.

To come up with its ranking, Fortune combed through mounds of data for almost 2,000 communities in the U.S.

The only other Texas city in the top 25 is the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, ranked 17th.

“Residents have a sweet spot for this Houston suburb that brings the community together through its lively downtown hub, local events, and even a ball game or two,” Fortune says.

Among other highlights, Fortune notes Sugar Land’s “outstanding schools,” the Sugar Land Space Cowboys minor-league baseball team, Sugar Land Town Square, and high-quality health care at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

In Sugar Land, the median home price is $399,250 and the median household income is $121,665, according to Fortune. The suburb is home to around 110,000 people.

Zac Efron finds out war is hell in The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Movie review

Longtime comedy writer/director Peter Farrelly duped a lot of people – though not this critic – with his first attempt at drama, 2018’s Green Book, for which he won Oscars for both Best Original Screenplay and, astoundingly, Best Picture. His follow-up film, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, is another film based on little-known history, with much stronger results.

Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron) is kind of a ne’er-do-well in a 1967 Manhattan neighborhood, living at home and going down to his local bar on a daily basis to drink with his friends. There, he, his friends, and bar owner Doc Fiddler (Bill Murray) commiserate over the fate of the local men who are getting injured or dying in the Vietnam War. Though they hate what the men face, they mostly agree that the soldiers are doing their patriotic duty.

On a drunken whim, Chickie – who has job as a merchant mariner – says he’s going to pay tribute to their friends by bringing them beer from back home. By hook or by crook, he actually manages to get over to Vietnam on a supply ship. But what starts out as a fun lark for the genial Chickie turns into an education about what war is actually like, how his friends are handling their deployments, and that governments may not be always telling the truth.

Co-written with Farrelly by Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones, the film is a tale of two halves. The first 45 minutes or so is pretty goofy, as it sets up the story by showing the growing divide about the war, a serious topic that’s undercut by almost every character utilizing an over-the-top New York accent. Chickie’s apparent lack of concern about heading into a war zone also rubs the wrong way.

But the film’s shift in tone once he gets to Vietnam is a welcome one, and helps to make sense of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish in the beginning of the movie. As Chickie tries to track down the various guys from his neighborhood, his eyes are opened about the experience on the ground in a war. Chickie traveling in plain clothes gets him mistaken for a CIA agent, a falsehood he willingly goes along with until an encounter with a real CIA agent pulls the wool off his eyes once and for all.

Farrelly appears to have matured as a filmmaker in the past four years. While he went for overly simplistic conflict and just as facile resolution in Green Book, he gets down and dirty in this film. He and his co-writers don’t pay lip service to the bad parts of war; they put Chickie right there in the middle of it all, witnessing atrocities firsthand. He’s not a soldier, so they don’t try to overplay their hand, but they give the film just enough intensity that the changes he experiences don’t feel tossed off.

Of course, the film is “based on a true story,” so you know liberties were taken – would the number of beers he brought really last? – but they do an effective job of making eye-rolling moments relatively believable. Chickie’s interactions with his soldier friends have a good arc to them, as do his run-ins with in-country reporters like Coates (Russell Crowe). A late film sequence that finds the two of them running around Saigon while the city is under siege is one of the best the film has to offer.

Efron, save perhaps for his turn as Ted Bundy in a Netflix film, has never been known for his dramatic chops. This role gives him the best of both worlds, allowing him to let loose and dig deep in equal measures, and he makes the most of it. Relative unknowns play his various friends, with the ones playing soldiers coming off the best. Murray and Crowe provide contrasting color to the film, and each is effective in their small amount of screentime.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a nice step up for Farrelly and proof that there are still interesting ways to demonstrate that war is hell. The funny premise behind the film belies the seriousness with which it treats the larger issue at hand, a bait-and-switch that gives the story a gravitas you might not expect.

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The Greatest Beer Run Ever is now playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Zac Efron in The Greatest Beer Run Ever