HBO seems to have found a strange, fun niche in self parody, specifically within the sports arena. Director Jake Szymanski, writer Murray Miller, and star Andy Samberg began this trend with 2015’s tennis parody “7 Days in Hell.” The film was a light trifle that was wonderfully absurd and broad at every turn. The trio teamed up yet again to shift their focus to the world of cycling in HBO’s latest TV movie, “Tour de Pharmacy.” The central joke of all cyclists engaging in doping looks to wear thin on the surface. However, there are enough zany sight gags and fun performances to keep “Tour de Pharmacy” moving at a brisk and hilarious pace.
The year is 1982 and the Tour de France is marred in scandal as all racers who paid a $50,000 bribe to UCI president Ditmer Klerken (Kevin Bacon) to escape drug testing are disqualified. This leaves five racers still in the running for the top prize. Marty Haas (Samberg) is an American-born Nigerian who is oblivious to his own privilege. Italian heartthrob Juju Pepe (Orlando Bloom) pushes his body to the limits, only to pay the price in a hilarious and over the top way. American cyclist Slim Robinson (Daveed Diggs) seeks to become the first black cyclist, much like his uncle, Jackie Robinson, did for baseball. Coming back with considerable muscle gain is Austrian cyclist Gustav Ditters (John Cena), hopped up on cheetah blood. Lastly, French cyclist Adrian Baton (Freddie Highmore) is a woman disguised as a man who wants to prove to herself she can win.
All major participants have great fun with the material. Szymanski knows how to keep things moving at a brisk pace. The jokes per minute quotient is quite high here, leaving little room for the film to wear out its welcome. Of the principle actors, it is great to see Diggs get yet another role to showcase his talents. Between this, “Black-ish” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Diggs is having quite a banner year. As a woman masquerading as a man, Highmore is a delightfully absurd choice. At the helm, Samberg plays to the cheap seats. However, his infectious energy spreads to the rest of the project.
What’s most inventive about these projects are always the cameos. Maya Rudolph, Phylicia Rashad, J.J. Abrams, Chris Webber and Mike Tyson all provide hilarious talking head style interviews. Of these interviews, the film spends the most time with an “anonymous” former cyclist, Lance Armstrong, to give self-aware accounts of doping. The most fun moments come from seeing the older versions of the final cyclists. Jeff Goldblum, Julia Ormond, Danny Glover and Dolph Lundgren are all wonderfully amusing as they look back on the Tour de France in question.
“Tour de Pharmacy” is as light on its feet as it is light on ambition. The sole goal is to up the absurdity in each scene. This creates a fun, if lofty, joke jenga that constantly builds atop itself. Luckily, all involved are entertaining enough to keep the picture from falling apart. It’s a quick and enjoyable watch, especially for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The wall-to-wall raunchy humor won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However, for those that enjoy Samberg’s humor or mockumentary style of humor, there’s a lot to really like here.
“Tour de Pharmacy” is currently available on HBO.