Two years ago, we got the tennis comedy 7 Days in Hell. Done in the style of a sports documentary, the movie recounted the seven-day saga between two tennis stars. The film only ran for 43 minutes, but it packed in as much absurdity as possible, using the deadly serious gravitas featured in 30 for 30 documentaries to play against the ridiculous characters. Director Jake Szymanski and writer Murray Miller have returned with yet another sports mockumentary, this time taking on cycling with Tour de Pharmacy. The format and tone of the comedy will feel familiar to fans of 7 Days in Hell, but the film does a solid job of wrangling its large cast for plenty of laughs, dick jokes, and all manner of ridiculousness.
The story takes place in July 1982 and follows five riders on the Tour de France after everyone else is banned for bribing the head of the anti-doping commission (Kevin Bacon) to overlook their doping. The remaining riders are white African Marty Hass (Andy Samberg), muscular Gustav Ditters (John Cena), Jackie Robinson’s nephew Slim Robinson (Daveed Diggs), secretly-a-woman Adrian Baton (Freddie Highmore), and the super-drug-fueled Juju Pepe (Orlando Bloom). As the five try to race towards the finish, they’re undone by their various drug addictions and bad behavior.
Tour de Pharmacy is very silly from its opening minutes, and never really relents. It relishes its juvenile humor, and it’s always able to take it as far as it wants because of the somberness of the sports documentary format. With Jon Hamm’s dulcet tones providing the narration, Tour de Pharmacy has all the hallmarks of the deadly serious sports documentary, which only makes it funnier when a dick joke comes out of nowhere or the plot takes a bizarre turn. Furthermore, everyone is game to just be outlandishly ridiculous, and it’s great to see so many actors having fun with the premise.
The only part where Tour doesn’t really work is in a running gag involving Lance Armstrong, a man who has become synonymous with doping. The whole joke is that Armstrong is supposed to be anonymous, but they keep shining light on his face so you know it’s him. For years, Armstrong denied he doped and that he won all of his Tour de France titles honestly. Now that he’s finally been caught and forced to admit he cheated for years, Tour de Pharmacy feels like a stop on a rehabilitation tour where he’s able to laugh at himself. It’s not really an apology for what he did wrong, and if anything, it feels like a way for him to regain his popularity. It’s a calculating move that forces you to consider the weight of Armstrong’s actions rather than just being able to play along with the rest of the silly movie.
If you can set the Armstrong scenes aside, Tour de Pharmacy is a fun, flighty, bonkers time that never overstays its welcome. Syzmanski and Miller have shown themselves to be quite capable of deconstructing the seriousness of the sports documentary, and if they came out with one of these kinds of films every year, I’d happily tune in.
Tour de Pharmacy premieres on HBO tonight at 10pm.