“VFW” is a spatter film, a “Hobo With a Shotgun” meets “From Dusk Til Dawn.”
It’s built on that “Fort Apache/Zulu/Assault on Precinct 13” formula that most zombie and more than a few vampire onslaughts use as a template. Pack a few people in a “fort,” surround them with savages, pick those savages off and try to look or sound cool doing it.
For my money, it needed to be a lot more “Shaun of the Dead” and a lot less “Hobo.” If it isn’t funny, it’s just a “Who gets it next?” slaughterhouse, a gruesome video game of a movie for the violence-inured.
Stephan Lang, having a career renaissance thanks to “Avatar” and “Don’t Breathe,” plays a Vietnam vet bartender at a VFW post under siege by drug-crazed junkies doing the dirty work of a ruthless drug dealer (Travis Hammer) who has lost his stash.
It’s a picture that sinks or swims on swagger, “creative” killings, some noble — if misguided — sacrifice and surviving un-survivable injuries just long enough to get off a one-liner.
The country is in the grip of this new drug, “hype,” which is so craved by its addicts that they have no control over what they have to do to get it. Order is breaking down. We never see a cop.
Not on the side of town where VFW Post 2494 clings to life. Fred and his post buddies Abe (Fred “The Hammer” Williamson), a Korean War era vet, and Walter Reed (teehee) played by William Sadler, open the joint every noon and close it down every night.
Fred is having little luck fending off the birthday wish that he join his veteran pals (George Wendt. David Patrick Kelly, Martin Kove) for an excursion to “a t—y bar” when an interloper arrives. Lizard (Sierra McCormick) has stolen the drug-dealer’s supply. She has her reasons.
It’s just that Boz (Hammer) then hurls his druggies at Post 2494 to get that “hype” back.
“An army of brain-dead animals is still an army,” Boz reasons.
The slaughter begins, in earnest — crazed attackers, desperate old or “oldish” men fighting back, cursing the “f—–g hippies” and “g–d—-d junkies” as they do. Car salesman Lou (Kove) is pissed. At Lizard.
“That trash comes in here, all of a sudden it’s like Khe Sanh ALL OVER again!”
That’s it for plot, the wizened veterans muttering “Cavalry ain’t coming, Lou,” the men’s bizarre, undeveloped motivation for sticking up for the under-scripted young woman who caused all this, the drug punk and his minions refusing to treat veterans with respect.
“Soldiers? Good. Soldiers are good at dying.”
A little DIY weaponizing of the bar, using old Viet Cong tricks and hockey sticks. Some tough talk between the old guys and the still-serving young GI (Tom Williamson) who came in to drink with men three-four times his age.
“Don’t kill’em all at once, now.”
I had higher hopes for this, based on the trailer, the players — Lang, Wendt from “Cheers,” Williamson the Elder (Is Tom a son, or grandson?), Kelly from “The Warriors” and Sadler from “Shawshank Redemption” and a far better-executed version of “VFW” titled “Trespass.”
But while director Joe Begos (“Bliss,” “The Mind’s Eye”) might know how to film brawls and bloodbaths, his track record is poor, and here he didn’t have much to work with. The screenwriters have lots of credits in film and TV, none of them involving writing. And it shows.
They made a promise, with their cool trailer, that their dull, bloody movie couldn’t keep.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, graphic violence, profanity throughout
Cast: Stephen Lang, Martin Kove, Sierra McCormick, Fred Williamson, William Sadler, George Wendt, David Patrick Kelly, Dora Madison, Travis Hammer and Tom Williamson
Credits: Directed by Joe Begos, script by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle. An RLJE/Fangoria release.
Running time: 1:32