A film that feels cobbled together from a “Dance Dance Revolution” arcade machine, that graffiti-covered white room where Will Smith shot music videos during his ‘Fresh Prince‘ days and the desperate need to create a new pop culture catchphrase, “The FP” is a singular pastiche of hip-hop nostalgia, smalltown escapism and dystopian absurdity. But the raw materials from which brothers Brandon and Jason Trost assemble their first feature are so specific that the end result may have trouble appealing to a wider audience, especially if viewers aren’t willing to embed their tongue so deeply in their cheek that they practically choke on it. A fun and ambitious if over-the-top and overlong comedy about a world where gangs work out their differences via dance fights to the death, “The FP” is one of the most unique films made in years, but that novelty value also often makes it more of an admirable effort than a truly enjoyable one.
Jason Trost plays JTRO, a member of the 248 gang who hangs up his dancing shoes after his brother BTRO (Brandon Barrera) dies while competing with 245 gang leader L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy). Retiring to a remote lumberyard outside the FP – Frazier Park — where he toils in obscurity, JTRO tries to forget the past and move on. But when KCDC (Art Hsu) reconnects with him and asks he help rescue the 245 from 248’s oppressive reign, he reluctantly agrees to take up the mantle of leadership left empty after BTRO’s death. Teaming up with KCDC and a girl from his ‘hood named Stacy (Caitlyn Folley), JTRO, begins to train for the ultimate showdown for supremacy of the FP, hoping that victory may pay tribute to the loss of BTRO.
A vision of the future born from the aesthetic of 1980s action movies, fortified with a lexicon either inspired by hip-hop slang and then filtered through the imagination of white suburbanites deeply envious of the cosmopolitan, hedonistic lifestyle advertised in music videos, “The FP” in many ways has its finger on the pulse of white America’s theft of black culture. The problem with the Trosts’ film satirizing that phenomenon is that it’s too aware of what it’s doing, and then it’s populated by actors who sound utterly inauthentic delivering lines filled with urban slang; that arm’s-length commitment makes for a great “Saturday Night Live” sketch, but a lesser feature film, because there’s nothing for the audience to invest themselves in emotionally. It certainly doesn’t help that the editing leaves too many awkward spaces between exchanges, and fails to pare down redundant, expository dialogue in favor of supposedly funny “heartfelt” moments where deep emotions are expressed almost exclusively through nonstop profanity.
At the same time, there’s something deeply charming about the film in the same way as something like Sylvester Stallone’s “Demolition Man,” in the sense that it mines a lot of humor out of goofy, futuristic anachronisms that seem destined to become their own punch line in years to come. (There’s nothing as immediately iconic as the “three seashells” in Stallone’s film, but it seems inevitable that fans of “The FP” will start using phrases like “that’s bullshit-ass shit” often in their everyday lives.) Even the central premise — battling on arcade machines that test the player’s reflexes and dancing skills — quite frankly already feels quaint; with home platforms offering similar games that have already eliminated those Simon-like floor pads, the film’s relevancy has already passed, making it more of a nostalgia piece than any accurate portrait of people’s immersion in pop culture right now.
But then again, that somehow seems totally appropriate, especially since our cycle of rehashing older cultural signposts has reached the early 1990s; moreover, the world within the FP feels exactly like one that kids from small towns would create in order to emulate bigger ones, complete with a sense of delay between the latest trends and ones from last year, and an understanding only of their broadest possible incarnations. In other words, the film is filled with intensely contradicting impulses on both a conceptual and technical level, but it is actually saying something, even if it’s not quite sure what it is, or saying it especially well.
Having seen the film at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival and then again recently to commemorate its theatrical release, it’s clear that many of its problems are systemic – budgetary limitations, conceptual inconsistencies, and some pretty bad performances. But a tighter cut might have brought some of its ideas into sharper focus, and even enhanced the humor, which often unfortunately gets undermined by languid pacing and lackluster storytelling. Overall, the Trosts’ first feature effort gets a lot of points for its ambition, scruffy charm and sometimes-brilliant execution – especially visually, where co-director and cinematographer Brandon (who was the cinematographer for “MacGruber” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”) gives everything a rich, glossy sheen worthy of any big-budget action blockbuster. But its other artistic merits are inconsistent at best, and fail to overcome the shortcomings of its simplistic and self-aware storytelling. All of which is why “The FP” functions perfectly as a cult movie, but its ambition never feels bigger than to achieve that benchmark. And that’s ultimately disappointing, because it could have been something not just bigger, but truly brilliant. [B-]