The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - VFW | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - VFW

vfw review
A group of Vietnam veterans defend their watering hole from a horde of drugged up thugs.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joe Begos

Starring: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Martin Kove, Fred Williamson, David Patrick Kelly, Travis Hammer, Sierra McCormick, Tom Williamson, George Wendt

vfw movie poster

I was a kid in the 1980s, but it wasn't until later in life that I developed an appreciation for the great Hollywood movies of the era like E.T. and Back to the Future. At the time, I wouldn't have been caught dead watching a movie that I was actually deemed old enough to watch. This was the era of the video store, and with a note from your Mum you were granted access to the enticing world of movies made for grown-ups. If a VHS cover was emblazoned with the yellow PG triangle or, heaven forbid, the green U triangle, it was summarily dismissed. My viewing habits were all about that beautiful crimson red 18 circle, or at the least the pink 15 circle. While mainstream Hollywood is currently desperate to appeal to fortysomethings with fond memories of The Goonies and Ghostbusters, a generation of indie filmmakers who grew up in the era are more interested in channelling the spirit of John Carpenter, Walter Hill and the sort of movies that were usually preceded by the VHS logos of either Vestron or New World.

Director Joe Begos (Bliss) is one such filmmaker. His latest, VFW, is so targeted towards my tastes as a 12-year-old that it could be dismissed as a work of cynicism were it not clearly made with love and affection for the sort of movies the mainstream forgot. Those movies which have lingered in the minds of those of us who were constantly pestering our parents to write us notes so we could rent Dead-End Drive-In, Chopping Mall or Class of 1999.

vfw movie review

As Steve Moore's John Carpenter influenced synth meets metal score throbs in the background, opening text in a very '80s red font informs us that in the near future, America's opioid crisis has exploded, turning most cities into no-go areas. The citizens have become addicted to a powerful new drug, known as 'Hype'. When drug kingpin Boz (Travis Hammer) causes the death of a young female junkie, the girl's younger sister, Lizard (Sierra McCormick), steals a backpack loaded with his supply of Hype and flees, pursued by Boz's drugged up minions.

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Lizard finds sanctuary in a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) bar run by grizzled Nam vet Fred (Stephen Lang) and occupied by a bunch of his aging military buddies. When Boz's gang-bangers arrive, they quickly discover they picked the wrong bunch of geriatrics to mess with.

vfw movie review

Led by Lang, continuing his improbable late career reinvention as the aging tough guy du jour, VFW's ensemble cast is a roll call of veteran character actors, most of whom enjoyed the peak of their careers in the '80s. There's 'The Hammer' himself, blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson, proving he's still one of the most charismatic bastards to ever grace the screen. There's Walter Hill regular and Twin Peaks star David Patrick Kelly, finally afforded a heroic role after a lengthy career playing diminutive douchebags. There's Martin Kove, former colleague of Cagney and Lacey and adversary of Daniel-san, here taking the role of the smarmy git who just might betray his buddies. There's good old Norm, George Wendt, occupying the same seat at the end of the bar that was his on Cheers. And there's the great William Sadler, another stock villain who gets to play the hero for a change.

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They're all having so much fun here that any cynicism you might have about stunt-casting is quickly dispatched. This group of veteran stars have such a natural chemistry that you really do start to believe they all served in Nam together and have been the best of mates ever since. While Begos keeps his film moving at a rapid pace, he takes a page from the Howard Hawks playbook of developing characters through action, and we develop enough affection for each of the assembled tough old gits that their deaths have an impact. It's this focus on character that distinguishes VFW from the many subpar attempts to capture the mood of '80s video schlock that American indie cinema churns out on a regular basis.

vfw movie review

The movie VFW is most indebted to is John Carpenter's siege thriller Assault on Precinct 13, which of course was a love letter to Hawks' Rio Bravo. As a director, Begos is no Carpenter, and his film suffers from poorly choreographed action scenes that will leave you squinting to figure out who is attacking whom. Mike Testin's neon cinematography is so murky that the movie's multiple elaborate gore effects are often rendered indecipherable. In the hands of a director more comfortable with action (just think what Walter Hill would have done with this scenario), VFW might become a modern cult classic. But for now it's worth a watch for the moments in between the action, when its cast of veteran supporting players grasp the opportunity to take centre stage.

VFW is on Shudder UK now.