Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Joe Begos’ VFW

It is like Cheers, with attitude and veterans’ benefits. They aren’t getting any younger, but the patrons and staff can still fight as hard as they drink. Society is collapsing around this Veterans of Foreign Wars post, but the regulars still uphold standards of conduct. A pack of drug-crazed punks will learn that the hard way in Joe Begos’ VFW, which releases today on DVD (and is already available on VOD).

Nationwide, VFW posts are struggling because of the organization’s institutional difficulties recruiting veterans of Vietnam and later conflicts. However, Fred Paras and most of his cronies are ‘Nam vets. Doug McCarthy happens to be a Korean War veteran and Shawn Mason has freshly returned from the Middle East, choosing tonight of all nights to grab a beer at the VFW. He is a sharp-shooter—a talent that will come in handy.

The shots and salty talk are about to be interrupted by Lizard, a young street dweller, who stole a shipment of the designer drug “Hype” from Boz, the local gang-leader, to avenge her sister. Even though she rubs Paras and his comrades the wrong way, they still offer her shelter from Boz’s marauding “Hyper” hoards. Things will get bloody and tragic, but they still abide by a code of honor.

Although Assault on Precinct 13 is an obvious source of inspiration for this film, the attitude and razor-sharp dialogue is distinctively its own. This film respects veterans and demands the same of its audience. Of course, it is not exactly shy when it comes to gore either.

Cult movie fans are sure to agree about one thing: the combination of character actors Stephen Lang and William Sadler, blaxploitation legend Fred Williamson, and 1980s action star Martin Kove cannot be beat. Lang (who paid tribute to Medal of Honor recipients with his one-man show Beyond Glory) is spectacularly grizzled and hard-nosed as Paras. Sadler nicely counterbalances him as the good-natured and slightly dissolute Walter Reed. Williamson looks like he never lost a step throwing down as Abe Hawkins, while Kove gleefully chews the scenery as wheeler-dealer used car salesman Lou Clayton. Plus, Tom Williamson (no relation) shows some serious action star potential as Mason.

VFW is gritty, grimy, and lethally effective. It also confirms Begos is the horror movie director equivalent of Star Trek movies. His “even number” films have been great: Mind’s Eye and VFW, but his “odds” are not so hot: Almost Human and Bliss. (To be fair, Star Trek III was under-valued, so we’ll keep an open mind regarding his future odd-numbers.) It’s not The Thing from Another World, but it shares a (pro-military) kinship, which is high praise. Enthusiastically recommended, VFW releases today on DVD—and is already available on VOD platforms.