Deep down, many moviegoers might be envious of Moondog, the main character in The Beach Bum. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find him endearing.
The slacker comedy from iconoclastic provocateur Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) certainly conveys the intended vibe of life on the beach with plenty of mood-altering substances and not a care in the world. It also leaves you with the mental equivalent of sunburn and heat exhaustion.
Matthew McConaughey plays the title role, as a washed-up poet who was once successful but has retreated to a life of hedonism and debauchery in the Florida Keys. With his artistic motivation in the rearview mirror, his round-the-clock pot habit is funded by his wife’s (Isla Fisher) inheritance.
“You just kind of have to accept that he’s from another dimension,” she explains, although her motives for remaining devoted to their marriage aren’t immediately apparent. Maybe it’s their daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen), who’s about to be married in her decidedly more conventional relationship.
Before and during a subsequent downward spiral, Moondog crosses paths with various enablers who share his zest for the bizarre, including a fellow stoner (Snoop Dogg) who cozies up to his wife, a literary agent (Jonah Hill), a party animal (Zac Efron), and a dolphin-loving fisherman (Martin Lawrence).
You could argue that McConaughey seems to be playing a version of himself, even jamming on the bongos in one self-deprecating scene. In another, he shares a hot tub, while wearing a thong, with Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett. Commitment to the role is not an issue here.
As a whole, however, the film’s nonstop barrage of decadent eccentricities and outrageous behavior is amusing for a while before gradually turning obnoxious and off-putting. The free-spirited and often unintelligible Moondog ultimately is more pitiful than charming, although it’s unclear if McConaughey and Korine — who also wrote the screenplay — realize that.
Beneath the sun-drenched visuals, the movie has a slapdash feel to it, as though much of it was made up on the spot. Channeling the spirit of Cheech & Chong, the story is little more than a semi-connected string of cannabis-fueled misadventures.
Maybe you’ll enjoy The Beach Bum if you’re in the right frame of mind. Yet it hardly seems worth the effort.