VFW / DIRECTOR: JOE BEGOS / SCREENPLAY: MAX BRALLIER, MATTHEW McARDLE / STARRING: TRAVIS HAMMER, DAVID PATRICK KELLY, MARTIN KOVE, STEPHEN LANG, SIERRA MCCORMACK, WILLIAM SADLER, AND FRED WILLIAMSON / RELEASED DATE: OUT NOW DIGITAL AND APRIL 6TH
Director Joe Begos has once again figured out a way to take a genre trope and turn it into something new with his latest film VFW. There have been so many films about old guys who used to be tough as nails getting together for one last ride that listing them would be absurdly long. Thankfully, director Begos has figured out a way to take a tired concept and turn it into something exciting, yet still familiar.
A group of old friends have gathered at the bar of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall for drinks on the day of Fred's (Stephen Lang) birthday. They're all veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan and are, appropriately, played by veterans themselves. David Patrick Kelly (Commando), Martin Kove (Karate Kid), William Sadler (Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey), and Fred Williamson (Black Caesar) make up the crew drinking at the VFW when young woman, Lizard (Sierra McCormack), comes barreling in the door, on the run after stealing the stash of drug dealer, Boz (Travis Hammer), who killed her sister.
Boz and his crew - which includes Begos regulars Graham Skipper and Dora Madison - come following, and chaos ensues. It's the usual “send her out and we'll let the rest of you live” storyline, but it's filled with the kind of grit that viewers haven't seen since John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. This is a film that really leans into the idea that these guys know that they're nearing the end of the line, and thus, they're willing to do whatever it takes to protect what is, essentially, their home.
Thanks to some minimal, but well-executed exposition as VFW opens, the viewer knows that Fred, Walter (Sadler), Abe (Williamson), and Doug (McCarthy) are usually at the bar from open to close, telling the same stories over and over again. For these guys, one thinks, this is a chance to prove that they're still worth something, and that their story might have one more exciting chapter in it. This is the way The Expendables would've been if there were no egos involved: a cavalcade of past-their-prime actors showing off one last time that they're worth something.
Also, unlike so many recent action films, there's no digital blood here. Once again, Begos has gone for practical effects, resulting in characters positively covered in viscera after heads and chests explode onto them. Thanks to the close confines of the VFW hall in which most of the action takes place, Begos has crafted a film in VFW that is splattery, loud-as-hell, and very much feels as if the viewer is sitting right at the bar as everything goes down. The score, by the director's longtime collaborator Steve Moore, is half Carpenter-style creepily atmospheric synths and half big heavy metal riffs. It's the perfect pairing for the explosions, axes to faces/arms/chests, and grizzled old men kicking mutant punk ass.
VFW might be the final chapter for many of these old warhorses, but they're going down swinging. And stabbing. And shooting. And chopping. And bombing. And whatever it is when someone takes a concrete saw and uses it to work their way through a crowd of drug-addled mutant punks. Joe Begos is once again literally killing it, and after the glorious craziness of this and Bliss being released so close together, it's impossible not to love him for all he does.