February 10, 2020 VFW (Movie Review)
What happens when 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 and 1987’s Street Trash have a love child? You get something along the lines of VFW, the newest chapter in Joe Begos’ filmography set for release in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD on Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14th via RLJE Films. After all, if Slasher films have been allowed to release during Christmas time, then why can’t Action/Horror extravaganzas be released on the most romantic day of the year?
Following Begos’ psychedelic head trip Bliss which came out this past October, the splatter auteur’s latest has an ensemble cast which appears to be the ultimate wet dream for any hardcore genre cineast. No joke, it stars Stephen Lang (Avatar 2009, Don’t Breathe 2016), William Sadler (Die Hard 2 1990, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight 1995), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid 1984, Cobra Kai series), David Patrick Kelly (The Crow 1994, Twin Peaks series), Fred Williamson (Death Journey 1976, From Dusk Till Dawn 1996), Sierra McCormick (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Land of the Lost 2009), Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die 2013, The Fosters series), Travis Hammer (Ray Donovan series, Godless mini-series), Dora Madison (Friday Night Lights series, Dexter series), and George Wendt (Cheers series, Forever Young 1992). That in mind, it might possibly be the bloodiest film since 2005’s Feast, which oddly enough also was a siege film taking place inside a bar.
Directed by Begos and scribed by newcomers Max Brallier along with Matthew McArdle, VFW is a classic B-movie in the most stripped down sense. A typical night for a group of war veterans at the local VFW turns into an all-out battle for survival when a teenage girl runs into the bar with a bag of stolen drugs. Suddenly under attack from a gang of mutants looking to get back what’s theirs – at any cost – the vets use every weapon they can put together to protect the girl, and the VFW, in the biggest fight of their lives.
Now, this film is a bit of a frustrating conundrum. On the one hand the performances from the key players are all as fun to watch as you would imagine. The Expendables of horror you might say. Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson and William Sadler are easily the standouts but only because they chew up the most screen time. They are wonderful for sure, but Martin Kove is the hidden gem in this bloodbath, he is probably the only principal character with an interesting back story. After being resurrected with the surprise hit Youtube series, Cobra Kai, Kove reminds us that he is a far more legit actor than people might think. One scene in particular when he attempts to negotiate with the villainous clan is genuinely tense and one of the best scenes in the film.
That is certainly not to say all the actors are heavy-hitters. In fact, a main flaw of the piece is that one of the key characters, Lizard (McCormick), feels completely out of place with her performance. She just can’t quite go head-to-head with the salty dogs she’s surrounded by and that makes for a problematic ordeal because she’s a major plot device and inhabits the screen for over half the film. There is a scene in particular where she tries to convince Stephen Lang’s character Fred to put the bottle down and fight back. Lang is clearly so committed and genuine and it could’ve made for such a strong scene if McCormick competed on the same level. It might seem like a minor blip but to be honest, her forced acting is quite distracting.
The biggest issue with VFW however is that it’s a manipulator. There is pretty much nonstop action and over the top gore being thrown into your face 3/4 of the film’s 92 minute run-time. Now that’s certainly not a bad thing but if you remove all the exploding heads and shotgun blasts, you’d be left with just a halfway somewhat decent movie. VFW is the poster child for films that have so much blood and brains to distract the eye that the film itself just needs to be okay. That’s, at its core, what VFW truly is. It’s just okay. Sure there’s a lot of killing and entertaining moments. Josh Ethier (Begos’ longtime collaborator in the cutting room) has a memorable sequence as his character Tank rolls in like The Terminator and takes on the entire ensemble of veterans.
If VFW had a stronger craft behind it and a better written script it just might go down as a cult classic. Will it still go down as a cult classic in certain people’s eyes? Most certainly. Could this be a fun annual midnight movie to go get drunk with your pierced Horror buff buddies and enjoy? Without a doubt. It’s clear that this is a type of film Begos adored growing up and after seeing his previous three films, it’s refreshing to see him tackle a larger budget and higher level actors.
All this said, the obvious problems are still very evident – including an opening title sequence that seems to go on forever. Though one thinks the niche market that will seek out this kind of yarn aren’t going in looking for a great film. They are looking for a high body count which this film delivers in spades. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 3 out of 5 stars.