TOUR DE PHARMACY Review
Director: Jake Szymanski
If you want a trip down memory lane, a nascent Crossfader actually managed to squeeze in coverage of 7 DAYS IN HELL back during the buildup to our public launch, so it’s only right to offer a few thoughts on TOUR DE PHARMACY two years later. Right off the bat, HBO deserves some recognition for the fact that they’ve managed to somehow make the TV movie an “event” worthy of consideration again. Long relegated to indiscriminate, trigger-happy late night browsing, apart from a Netflix stab at middling holiday memes back in 2015 (boy, we’re really digging some skeletons out of the closet), you couldn’t really be faulted for simply assuming they literally don’t make films like this anymore. But despite revitalizing the format, HBO seems content to avoid attempting to move it forward to any degree. That’s not necessarily a mark against them, since literally nobody was asking or expecting them to, but churning these out every other year ultimately further solidifies their existence as tacit cheap pleasures, unapologetic in their desire to occupy an hour of your time and never be thought of again.
This time around, we travel to the Tour de France of 1982, where the crash of horny cyclist JuJu Peppi (Orlando Bloom) sets off a chain of events that results in the temporary postponement of the race. During the interim, the police uncover that the majority of the cyclists have been indulging in heavy use of narcotics, which leads to everyone except Peppi, Marty Hass (Andy Samberg), Adrian Baton (Freddie Highmore), Slim Robinson (Daveed Diggs), and Gustav Ditters (John Cena) being disqualified. The race continues with BBC reporter Rex Honeycut (James Marsden) gamely staying on the group’s tail, with the requisite antics soon to follow. Intercut with present-day mockumentary footage of an exhaustively star-studded roster of cameos, TOUR DE PHARMACY is loud, dumb, and at worst, mildly amusing.
As pictured here
I understand decrying something like this as low-brow is a fool’s game, so we’ll mostly side-step the fact that the film uses crass humor as a crutch. For the most part it’s so over-the-top it’s at least entertaining in terms of incredulousness, but there are slight moments of distastefulness that rear their head (the officer reporting on the scene of Peppi’s crash, played by Will Forte, accidentally injects himself with a potent amphetamine that eventually results in him sodomizing himself with his own billy club). However, if TOUR DE PHARMACY was any less dedicated to its all-encompassing, nearly surreal lack of conventional mores or logic, we wouldn’t be blessed with the film’s highlight: the overwrought, downright zany explanations for the events that led up to all the cyclists doping.
Head of Union Cycliste Internationale Ditmer Klerken (one of the strongest bit parts, played by Kevin Bacon) is a Finnish citizen that was introduced to credit cards along with the rest of the nation in 1982. However, the KultaBank ad that was intended to explain the basics of credit to the good people of Finland was so overly sexualized and intentionally obtuse that nobody learned a lesson; enter Klerken, who racked up a massive debt and allowed the riders of Tour de France to bypass drug testing if they gave him $50,000. If there’s one reason to watch TOUR DE PHARMACY, it’s this roughly five minute segment; with Maya Rudolph’s Lucy Flerng attempting to retain a semblance of composure while explaining what all went down (pun intended—you’ll see), it is so willfully stupid and contrived that it’ll have you rolling in the aisles.
OK, this was originally going to be a non-joke about getting excited, but then I noticed that tall, pale, clown-like man with the gaping mouth in the background. You see that, right? Right???
Unfortunately, very little else will inspire such a strong reaction. With the understood caveat that I’m a big ol’ grump, Szymanski’s second foray into sports mockumentary relies far too heavily on one of my least favorite comedy tropes: relying on a revolving door of comedians and comedy-adjacent celebrities to say mildly amusing things, entirely depending on their mere appearance for the crux of the joke. Sure, there are highlights, Nathan Fielder proving himself a gem as always as Stu Ruckman, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, but Dolph Lundgren was an odd choice as present-day Ditters, and Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson, and Joe Buck all fall rather flat. In fact, the most successful celebrity cameo is by far the least assuming. Former NBA star Chris Webber is incorporated into the film, but due to a misunderstanding wherein the “filmmakers” got members of the Fab Five University of Michigan Basketball Team to interview instead of the fictional Fab Five 1982 Tour de France team. Since his appearance is actually predicated on a narratively constructed joke, it lands to a far more notable degree than the never-ending cavalcade of “that guys” that continue to pop in and out.
Since TOUR DE PHARMACY relies so heavily on the namedrops of its talking heads, there’s a somewhat disappointing lack of visual humor present in the “real-time” race at hand. John Cena turns in the expected level of roided insanity and Andy Samberg and Freddie Highmore have a Tim and Eric-reminiscent sex scene, but the entire joke of Daveed Diggs’s character is that he leaves for a large portion of the race to start a life in a French farm, only to return at the last second. Considering that the entire premise of the film is coverage of a bike race, it seems somewhat odd to have not doubled down more on physical ceomdy. In addition, whereas 7 DAYS IN HELL actually managed to have a heart of some sort by zeroing in on two flawed characters, increasing the humor of their interactions all the while, TOUR DE PHARMACY renders most of its cast as participants in pockets of superficial amusement due to the fact that there’s just so darn many of them.
Coulda been a Beastie Boys doc
As can occasionally be the fallacy of our binary recommendation system, I’m going to give TOUR DE PHARMACY a “Do Not Recommend” while also telling you to watch it. Whaddya have to lose? It’s 40 minutes, all the funny people you like to laugh at are in it, and you get to see Jeff Goldblum swagged out in ‘90s-dental-office-art Africana as present-day Marty Hass. But it is undeniably a slight step down from its predecessor due to a mild tarnish on the novelty. HBO clearly has access to a veritable goldmine of stars and a template that could lead to some exceptionally clever satire. If Szymanski is here to stay, then I hope 2019’s installment focuses back on character, crafts more coherent and cohesive jokes, and brings in everyone under the sun to participate.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend