If you’re not a fan of sports, then sports documentaries can be painful and downright excruciating. Even ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, which has become the gold standard for presenting the history of sports, can sometimes feel dry or dull to the average person. However, director Jake Szymanski and writer Murray Miller–the minds behind 2015’s 7 Days In Hell–have a new sports mockumentary out that is beyond belief, called Tour De Pharmacy.
The HBO 45- minute fictional movie recounts the story of five cyclists during the 1982 Tour De France, a year when everyone was abusing some sort of drugs during the yearly race. Andy Samberg stars as Marty Hass, the first African cyclist in the event, whose father owned a diamond mine in Nigeria. In addition, the movie features Orlando Bloom as previous Tour De France winner Juju Pepe, Daveed Diggs as Jackie Robinson’s nephew Slim Robinson, Freddie Highmore as Adrian Baton, a female cyclist posing as a male, and John Cena as Gustav Ditters, who gained 200 lbs. of muscle during the off season. In addition, the movie features present day interviews with the athletes, and Jeff Goldblum steals the show as an aging Hass, who still dresses like it’s 1982.
What makes this short film work so incredibly well is how off-the-wall it is. Right off the bat, the film explains that cyclists regularly urinate while riding, with the commentator stating with a to-the-point inflection in his voice, "[this] is a thing that cyclists actually do." That line sets the whole tone for the entirety of the 45 minutes: it’s sarcastic, absurd, and does not shy away from making fun of the little-known-facts in the world of cycling. That’s the charming thing about Tour De Pharmacy: it presents what many would consider to be a boring topic in the most outlandish way possible, while being brutally honest in a comedic fashion.
What drags the viewer deeper down the rabbit hole are the incredibly bizarre–yet hilarious–tangents Tour De Pharmacy detours through time and time again. While the film relies heavily on interviews with celebrities and comedians posing as experts, these moments go entirely off-the-rails, sometimes for a few minutes, like when an animated educational video is shown about how blood cells work, which takes an exceptionally dark turn.
Another perfect example of this is when legendary boxer Mike Tyson–who says he is a huge Tour De France enthusiast–recounts the time his bike was stolen. To make matters even more baffling–yet entirely hilarious–the whole scene is reenacted in the graphical style of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, which you can see a screencap of below.
As over-the-top the comedy may be in this film, it has a remarkably enthralling story about five cyclists trying to be the best, even if drugs, death, or romance get in the way. Each of the five characters have distinct, engaging story arcs that weave their way through the narrative. It is all set up with a ludicrous story involving the head of the Tour De France, Ditmer Klerken (played by Kevin Bacon), who overspendings after credit cards were introduced to his country, and in doing so, he puts pressure on the cyclists to pay him to help with the debt. There is a lot to keep track of as the movie progresses, but at no time does it feel like information overload, as much of what is presented is purely for a quick gag.
Yes, Tour De Pharmacy is silly and sometimes downright stupid, but its absurdist humor and mocking of sports documentaries is wonderful, and perfectly points out nonsensical elements from the genre it parodies, while telling a story that is weirdly captivating. It’s a fine follow-up to 7 Days In Hell and another huge success for Szymanski and Miller. Cycling and the Tour De France may not be everyone’s cup or tea, but Tour De Pharmacy makes cycling enjoyable to a mass audience, through jokes about very real problems like performance enhancing drugs, cheating, and Toto singing about Africa.
Tour De Pharmacy is currently available through HBO Go, HBO Now, and on-demand for HBO subscribers.