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Tucker Max banks on his base to drive 'Beer in Hell'

September 23, 2009 | 11:17 am

TUCKERART

When it comes to promoting "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," the movie based on his bestselling book, author and provocateur Tucker Max knows his audience: frat boys and the girls who love them.

With a limited budget and a recognition that he's not exactly going to be embraced by the mainstream media, Max, who has built a business out of detailing his drunken sexcapades (think Joe Francis with a laptop) is banking on his core fan base to spread the word to the masses. The film, which Max jokes is "unfortunately based on a true story," follows a group of friends on a bachelor party/road trip to a legendary strip club who encounter and create mayhem every step of the way (yup, we know, the movie sounds just like this summer's "The Hangover"). Matt Czuchry, best known for his work on the drama "Gilmore Girls," plays Max on the big screen. The author himself has a cameo at the end of the movie.

Max has hit 31 colleges in 40 days, a pace that would exhaust even the most hardened rock and roller. Small wonder that the tour manager that Max hired used to work with Motley Crue and Hall & Oates. The hope is that his screenings and Q&A sessions with the audiences will build movie buzz.

The big question is whether Max's grassroots marketing campaign will help lift the movie beyond his core fans and turn it into a credible hit -- or put it on the fast track to the video-store-remainder bin.

"Conan and Leno are not going to book me," he said. "We don't have any money to spend, we need to tell everyone everything we can." Max figures that given the success of his book and website that "2.5 million people are already predisposed to see this movie and like it."

While the promotion budget has allowed for a few spots on cable channels Comedy Central and Spike as well as some controversial posters that have already been taken down in Chicago, it is the road trip that Max is banking on to generate word-of-mouth that can push the movie to the mainstream.

"When your buddy tells you a movie is good that's worth 2,000 commercials," he said.

Max and crew have been playing to campus crowds as large as 500 people and have been recording the hi-jinx for the film's website. After screenings, Max and his team chug beers while talking with and sometimes exchanging insults with the audience. Some of the activities that have gone on behind-the-scenes aren't really appropriate for a family website or, in some cases, an adult one either. 

On a few tour stops, his crew of mischievous makers have been met with protests by feminists groups who argue that Max's antics promote a culture of rape. Shannon Johnson, director of the North Carolina State Women's Center told Times reporter Chris Lee in his profile of Max that the author's work can make it "mainstream to dehumanize women."

Max has dismissed such charges and to be sure, while his work won't win him an honorary membership to the National Organization for Women, he also shouldn't be confused with Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho."

"The haters always scream the loudest," he said, adding, "I sold a million books because I have a lot of fans, not because people hate me."

The movie, which cost about $7 million to make and was produced by Darko Entertainment, is being self-distributed via Freestyle Releasing and is opening in 85 cities, including several college towns. Max, who doesn't lack confidence, thinks that after the opening weekend the movie will do so well that it will become a wide release. "I expect our per-screen average to be really good," he said, sounding more like a Hollywood veteran than a party boy-turned-producer.

One challenge for the movie is its similarity in plot to Warner Bros.' summer smash "The Hangover." To the general public that gets wind of the movie, there may be a been there, done that reaction to the film.

Sean McKittrick, a producer on "Beer in Hell," said the similarities to "The Hangover" are surface only. "This is a hard-edged, in-your-face hyper-intelligent comedy," McKittrick said. Max added that it is "'The Matrix' of hard-R comedy" and not a "white-washed 'Wedding Crashers' comedy."

While Max kept stressing that his movie has a "real meaningful story," it should be noted that the main character realizes the evil of his ways during a bout of diarrhea. That's probably why even Max conceded that "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" probably shouldn't be compared with "Slumdog Millionaire."

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Matt Czuchry, left, as Tucker Max with co-star Jesse Bradford in "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." Credit: Steve Dietl
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