Directed by Joe Begos.
Starring Stephen Lang, Martin Kove, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, George Wendt, Travis Hammer, and David Patrick Kelly.
A group of war veterans must defend their local VFW post and an innocent teen against a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of punk mutants.
What happens when you combine ‘80s B-movie action and gore, a swarm of mutated drug addicts, and genre stars Stephen Lang, Martin Kove, William Sadler, Fred Williamson and George Wendt as a group of veterans that kick some serious ass? The best The Expendables movie we never got.
VFW is set in the near future, one that (believe it or not) is worse than ours. A new drug called Hype has taken over the streets and turned America into a war zone while the police and government gave up all attempts to control or stop it. The drug turns its users beyond simple addicts – these are mindless, bloodthirsty punk mutants who stop at nothing to get a fix. When the local drug lord Boz’s (Travis Hammer) stash get stolen by a woman who takes shelter at a local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) post, all hell breaks loose.
We follow a group of Vietnam veterans played by familiar faces, Kove, Sadler, Williamson, Wendt and Lang, who are about to celebrate Fred’s (Lang) birthday before the mutants interrupt the celebrations.
Director Joe Begos is known for wearing his influences on his sleeve, from his Cronenberg-inspired sci-fi horror movie The Mind’s Eye, to the Lynch-inspired Bliss. For VFW, the director looks closely at early John Carpenter movies, in particular Assault on Precinct 13. Every scene is lit with deep and enthralling neon blues and reds, playing with the lighting to make the action feel fresh despite it all happening in one building – the VFW. Even the score is a synth-heavy throwback to ‘80s soundtracks, especially Carpenter’s, which gives the movie an old-school feel that also energizes the action to make this a fantastic movie for midnight audiences.
The cast is simply fantastic, with credit due to the film’s writers who don’t spend too much time pointing out the age of the characters. They’re older, sure, but that is not the only thing that informs these badass soldiers. Each character has their own trait – there’s Doug (David Patrick Kelly) who is the charming stoner, Abe (Fred Williamson) the ladies’ man, and Lou (Martin Kove) who is a confident salesman. Lang plays the emotional core of the film, infusing Fred with fierce loyalty and love for his fellow veterans that informs every decision he makes. The group has palpable chemistry that kicks off the moment you first see them on screen, constantly playing off one another with great banter that feels natural.
Begos knows his audience, and he delivers. VFW doesn’t try to be more than a fun midnight movie, and that is exactly what you get when you see it. The moment the drug-fuelled mutants walk into the VFW post, blood starts covering walls, heads get blown up and body parts start flying. Begos uses a handheld camera throughout the film to give it a more kinetic look, making the audience feel like part of the action. And the production design does wonders to make this film not only look like the ‘80s classics it imitates, but to bring them to 2019’s designs and concepts. Look out for an array of incredibly cool-looking jackets filled with spikes that will have you wanting to grow a mohawk, wear 3D glasses out in the street and go bash some skulls with your war buddies.
Though it doesn’t have a deeper meaning than war sucks, VFW does have a surprising amount of touching moments. This group of badass soldiers deeply care for one another and the bar they’re trying to protect. Sure, the action is bloody and thrilling, but you feel the actors adding emotion to every single body they shoot, every skull they crush.
VFW does not reinvent the wheel, but that’s fine. Though it doesn’t try to do anything knew besides imitating its influences, it does so competently enough to be a gory and fun throwback to ‘80s punk rock action movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★