Sometimes a movie doesn't have to be all that original to work. If it's got a fresh twist to put on a familiar idea, and if it executes the twist well, that can be sufficient to provide entertainment. VFW, for instance, has a premise that's not dissimilar to the premises of From Dusk Till Dawn and Feast. All are about people trapped in a bar fighting some form of encroaching villains. Nevertheless, director Joe Begos (Bliss) and writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle find a unique spin to put on that concept, leading to a horror movie that's satisfyingly bloody and wickedly funny.
In this case, the trapped people are veterans in a VFW post. Fred (Stephen Lang), Lou (Martin Kove), Walter (William Sadler), and Abe (Fred Williamson) are Vietnam vets. Their enemy is Boz (Travis Hammer), a drug dealer who operates out of an abandoned movie theater across the street. In an act of revenge for the overdose death of her sister, a young woman named Lizard (Sierra McCormack) steals a huge stash of “Hype,” the super-powerful drug Boz peddles. She then seeks refuge in the bar. With Boz determined to kill her, Fred and the gang step in to fight the scumbag dealer and his druggie army.
Having four-fifths of the heroes be older veterans allows for fun on a couple levels. VFW has a lot of humor, as the guys rib each other about their advanced age. The screenplay offers up sharp lines of dialogue in this regard, all of which are expertly delivered by the seasoned cast. On the flip side, you also get a compelling depiction of heroism that's different from most horror movies. These men aren't agile young dudes. They are, however, highly skilled. When the threat from Boz presents itself, Fred and crew immediately snap back into combat mode, utilizing the techniques and strategies they learned in combat.
That leads to perhaps the thing that's most special about VFW: it honors our veterans. The guys aren't afraid. They've already been through hell and learned how to survive. When duty calls, they suit up without question, ready to defend the innocent. It's a great reminder of the heroism our vets have long displayed.
This being a Joe Begos film, you also get insane acts of violence staged with style. A lot of blood is shed here, yet the tone of the film is intentionally a little exaggerated so it's never sickening or off-putting. The director knows how to straddle that thin line where violence is graphic yet still removed from reality just enough that you can enjoy seeing the bad guys meet the gruesome fates they have coming to them.
Lang, Williamson, Kove, and Sadler are terrific in their roles, with Sadler being the scene-stealer. He earns many laughs by emphasizing Walter's sarcasm. Those four actors range in age from 67 (Lang) to 81 (Williamson). Without exception, they maintain screen credibility as ass-kicking heroes. The chemistry between them is enjoyable to watch.
VFW doesn't reinvent the wheel, but the stellar cast, over-the-top action, and visible admiration for veterans make it a prime piece of genre cinema.
out of four
VFW is unrated, but contains adult language, drug content, and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.