MOVIE REVIEW OF “VFW”

If you love to howl at movies, whether at theaters or on home video, “Bliss” director Joe Begos’ retro-1980’s exploitation crime thriller “VFW” (*** OUT OF ****) will make your lungs sore.  Predictable but entertaining from fade-in to fadeout, this profane, skull-smashing, B-movie conjures up a fictitious narcotic Hylophedrine–nicknamed Hype for short–that junkies will commit suicide to score.

Clocking in at a nimble 92-minutes, this hard-boiled “Grindhouse” epic wallows in clichés and conventions galore, with hard-luck heroes you’ll admire as well as vile villains who’ll make you swear. Nothing about this brass-knuckled, Fangoria-produced nail-biter pulls any punches when it comes to orchestrating slam-bang action with a double-digit body count. Indeed, the heroes of this hair-raising hokum are primarily Vietnam veterans, and one from the Korean Conflict, who defend their hometown VFW Post with a vengeance against a desperate legion of zombified addicts dying for Hype.

 “VFW” opens with a dystopian prologue. “As America’s opioid crisis worsens, addicts turn to a new drug. Hylophedrine. Street Name: Hype. Cities become war zones. Neighborhoods crumble. Law enforcement retreats.  With dealers struggling to meet demand, Hypers resort to any means necessary to get their fix.” This bizarre, adrenaline-fueled fracas, throbbing with an atmospheric, heavy-metal soundtrack, evokes memories of “Escape from New York,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” and “Assault on Precinct 13,” three of John Carpenter’s best, ultra-violent, lunatic fringe action classics. Begos doesn’t waste time setting up the premise and pitting our virtuous heroes against some genuinely nasty pieces of work.

The mayhem in “VFW” transpires on the outskirts of an anonymous metropolis. Reportedly, the film was lensed on location in Dallas, Texas. Despite all the chaos ravaging the world, Fred Parras (Stephen Lang of “Tombstone”) cruises off for another day of tending a wood-paneled bar at VFW Post 2494. Abe Hawkins (Fred Williamson of “Original Gangstas”) and Walter Reed (William Sadler of “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”), two of his best buddies, accompany him.

Eventually, flashy car salesman Lou Clayton (Martin Kove of “Rambo II”), medical marijuana puffer Doug McCarthy (David Patrick Kelly of “Commando”) and barfly Thomas Zabriski (George Wendt of TV’S “Cheers”) belly up to the bar. At midnight, they plan to knock off and visit a strip joint to celebrate Parras’ birthday.

Across the street from the VFW post sprawls a derelict multiplex movie theater.  Dozens of Hypers congregate in the parking lot in front of the dilapidated edifice. They depend on evil drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer of “Dominion”) for their fix.  Meantime, Parras doesn’t think these “28 Days Later” rage-crazed millennials pose a peril. He adopts a live and let live stance until a teen runaway, Lizard (Sierra McCormick of “The Vast of Night”), bursts into Post 2494. She is carrying $500-million of Hype in cinder block sized packages.

So addictive is Hype after you use it, you’re hooked forever and will commit suicide for more! It seems that depraved Boz, looking piratical in his spike-studded, black leather jacket, refused to give vial of Hype to Lizard’s sister.  Instead, he tossed it over the edge of the theater’s second-floor balcony. Trembling with the mute fear, Lizard’s sister Lucy (Linnea Wilson of “Rogue Warfare”) shrives with fear and then performs a header off the balcony!

In one of the more graphic scenes, we watch as Lucy’s body—arms spread as if crucified–plummets face down into the floor and crashes in a pool of blood. Since Boz knows where Lizard has fled, he summons his bloodthirsty throng of mindless mutants.  He vows to give anybody who recovers the Hype enough of it to liquify their tonsils.  One of his henchmen warns Boz that VFW stands for Veterans of Forever Wars. A sadistic smile creases Boz’s narrow face, “Good.  Soldiers know how to die.”

Mind you, these grizzled, past-their-prime, war dogs wanted nothing more than to booze the night away and toast Fred’s birthday. Unfortunately, everything at VFW Post 2494 went sideways when that fugitive teenage girl on the lam barreled into the place.

She knows Boz will kill her to recover the Hylophedrine, but she is grateful that the old-timers will protect her. Rampaging hot on her heels storms a horde of homicidal hellions who aren’t going to let anybody interfere with their objective. Not only does Boz want his narcotics back, but he also wants to slay Lizard and slaughter the veterans!

“VFW” aspires to be nothing more than an exciting, popcorn-munching, B-movie melodrama. Watching these Vietnam veterans wade into a host of Hypers, slugging, stabbing, and skewering them without a qualm, is something to see. Sensitive souls who couldn’t stomach either Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk till Dawn” or S. Craig Zahler “Brawl in Cell Block 99” should probably abstain from this rambunctious rabble-rouser.

Camaraderie runs high among the ensemble cast of cantankerous of old farts, even after they exhaust ammo for their firearms and must improvise like “MacGyver” for an imminent Armageddon. Tearing apart bar stools, they convert the legs into cudgels.  If you’re craving an old-fashioned but formulaic outing about grumpy Boomers versus ghoulish Millennials, you won’t go wrong with “VFW.”

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