'VFW': Film Review

Courtesy of RLJE Films
Assault on the alte kockers.
2/14/2020

Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly and Fred Williamson play elderly war veterans fighting off an attack by drug-crazed criminals in Joe Begos' violent horror thriller.

The veteran stars of Joe Begos' retro exploitation movie VFW have a legacy of centuries of cinematic ass-kicking behind them. The perfect action movie for people to see with their grandfathers, it features an ensemble including Stephen Lang (Avatar, Don't Breathe), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2), Martin Kove (the Karate Kid movies, Cagney and Lacey), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Commando) and Fred Williamson (if you aren't aware of Williamson's legendary blaxploitation credits, then this isn't the movie for you).

The nostalgia is strong in this effort that resembles a senior citizen version of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. From its synth-heavy soundtrack to its premise of a group of macho men fighting off a horde of violent invaders, the pic clearly pays homage to Carpenter's classic (itself an homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo), except that the leading performers in this film are mostly well past Social Security-eligibility age.

The storyline devised by screenwriters Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle couldn't be simpler, which in this case only makes it all the more effective. A group of longtime friends, all veterans of wars including Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, have gathered at their rundown local VFW outpost, a bar owned by one of their grizzled own, Fred (Lang, so fit at 67 he should be making exercise videos), who is celebrating his birthday. The bar is a safe refuge in the violence-plagued city whose conditions have only gotten worse thanks to the growing epidemic of a new street drug called "Hype" that reduces its users to an aggressive, zombie-like state.

While the group is indulging in profane banter reflecting their deep camaraderie, they're interrupted by the arrival of a desperate young woman, Lizard (Sierra McCormack). She's seeking refuge from the town's chief drug dealer, Boz (Travis Hammer), who operates out of an abandoned movie theater across the street. Lizard has stolen a huge stash of his drugs as revenge for the overdose death of her sister, and Boz is determined to get it back, ordering his crazed minions to do whatever it takes.

So the veterans, who live by a code of honor, naturally have no choice but to protect her against the invading horde. And despite their many years of inaction, they have no trouble getting back into combat mode, joined by a younger, still-active soldier (Tom Williamson) who had dropped by to pay his respects. Besides the few guns they have on hand, they also come up with a variety of ingenious homemade weapons, including pool cues, deer antlers, buzz saws and, naturally, an American flag.

The veteran actors, who also include George Wendt as one of the barroom regulars (the world just seems a better place when the Cheers actor can once again be seen sitting on a bar stool), clearly seem to relish the opportunity to play off their macho screen personas and engage in the sort of mayhem that marked many of their previous films. And director Begos (Bliss, The Mind's Eye) has no trouble supplying that mayhem, staging a series of ultra-violent encounters marked by the sort of explicit blood and gore that will have genre fans howling with delight at the sheer excessiveness of it all. Limbs are severed, heads are decapitated, bodies explode — and that's only a fraction of the brutality on display. It ultimately goes so far over the top that the effect is almost comical, but then again, that was probably the intention.

VFW ultimately lacks the cinematic flair to be truly memorable. But the pic succeeds on its own terms of being a nostalgic throwback to the days when such B-movies routinely opened on double and triple bills in urban grindhouses. Those venues' modern-day equivalent, basically streaming and late-night cable, are certainly more efficient. But this is the kind of film you really want to see in a theater featuring sticky floors, dingy walls and rowdy patrons shouting back to the screen.

Production companies: Fangoria Films, Media Finance Capital, Voltage Pictures, Good Wizard, Channel 83 Films
Distributor: RLJE Films
Cast: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, Sierra McCormick, Tom Williamson, Travis Hammer, Dora Madison, George Wendt, Fred Williamson
Director: Joe Begos
Screenwriters: Max Brallier, Matthew McArdle
Producers: Dallas Sonnier, Amanda Presmyk, Josh Ethier
Executive producers: David Gilbery, Charlie Dorfman, Danielle Cox, Adam Donaghey, Phil Nobile Jr., Stephen Lang, Noah Lang, Bobby Campbell
Director of photography: Mike Testin
Production designer: Adam Dietrich
Editor: Josh Etheir
Composer: Steve Moore
Casting: Jessica Schmidt
Casting: David Guglielmo

92 minutes