On paper, the Trost Brothers' dystopian comedy The FP has all the trappings of an instant cult classic: a loving sendup of '70s and '80s movies complete with absurdly costumed gang warriors, heaps of self-aware slang, training montages, and low-stakes battles treated as life-or-death situations. As an added bonus, those battles are played out with deadly severity over the dance pad video game Dance Dance Revolution. But, while there's a lot of heart that shines through this low-budget flick, the center of its crude humor can't quite hold.
If you've seen the first 12 minutes of The FP, you know how the movie begins. BTRO (Brandon Barrera) and his younger brother JTRO (Jason Trost) are a Beat-Beat Revelation team representing the 248, a gang from the north side of Frazier Park (the titular FP), until one fateful night when the pair takes on L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy) and the 245 crew, representing the FP's south side while sporting confederate stars and bars. The brothers TRO make a good showing right up until BTRO suffers a Beat-Beat execution thanks to L-Dub's fleeter feet.
From there, we get a Beat-Beat ablution, as JTRO washes his hands of the FP's gang war, up until KCDC (Art Hsu) drags JTRO back home so he can train to defeat L-Dub and win his Beat-Beat retribution. (That's the last one, I swear.)
I spent a good deal of the first half hour of The FP wondering exactly how society had gotten to the point where moon boots are the height of fashion and everyone speaks in hip-hop slang as interpreted by suburban white kids. Was there some sort of information apocalypse where our society had to be completely reconstructed from '80s movies? Is The FP set in an alternate universe in which our infrastructure collapsed before the Clinton administration? The FP offers no answers, but I kept thinking back to the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic where the only people who survive the apocalypse are folks at frat parties.
Yes, The FP is a dumb movie, but there's a certain cleverness to its idiocy. Mocking the low stakes that so many '80s movies protagonists fight for, The FP concocts a hilariously convoluted explanation the 245-248 war. It's a beautifully constructed joke, and Hsu sells it with maniacal earnestness so that when it hit its exquisitely pointless punchline, the entire theater erupted in laughter. Some of these jokes seem to be born out of low-budget necessity, and that means there are some wonderful surprises lurking in the corners. Even though The FP has some hideous problems (more on that later), I'll be rewatching it just to catch more of those jokes.
The movie is, on its surface, a tribute to the insanity of films like Mad Max and The Warriors, but it's also a somewhat mocking love letter to Frazier Park, the rural southern California town the Trosts called home. There are languid shots of the main road that runs through town, and even the most hardened dancing gangster lives in a clean, middle class home. The post-apocalyptic wasteland effect is achieved by filling barns and trailer parks with Christmas lights and carefully overdressed extras (with costumes designed by the third Trost sibling, Sarah). Combined with the film's cinematography and audio mixing, it gives the charming impression that The FP has simultaneously high and low production values.
It's easy to see how much of themselves the filmmakers put into The FP. That so many of the characters' names are based on people who worked on the film (JTRO for Jason Trost, BTRO for Brandon Trost, L Dubba E for Lee Valmassy) is just one of the ways they signal how personal the movie is. Throughout, the Trosts telegraph that they love movies, and they love their silly film, and they really hope the rest of us love it, too.
At the end of the screening I saw, the Trosts explained that The FP is based largely around the parties they attended as Frazier Park teenagers, claiming much of the movie's dialogue had been spoken verbatim by their peers. That may well be true, but it doesn't always work to the film's advantage. The word "nigga" permeates the movie's dialogue — even seeping into the Beat-Beat Revolution screens. Once I was done contemplating the '80s infoapocalypse, I turned my attention to scanning the crowd scenes for any black people, and came up wanting. Now I'm not suggesting there's no place for offensive words in a comedy like this; Idiocracy depends heavily on the word "faggot" without showing a visibly gay individual. But as an audience member, I need to understand what those words are doing there. Idiocracy made clear from the get go that it was using "faggot" to signal the intellectual decline of society, and every time we were invited to laugh at it, we were laughing at the types of people who use that word as an uninspired catch-all for "smart" and "polished." The FP offers no such explanations, and so "nigga" becomes a distraction from the movie rather than an enhancement of it. It does offer a negation of the word's offensiveness toward the end, but the joke is too weak and happens too late to justify its use. If only the Trosts were as thoughtful there as they were in so much of the film, they could have transformed the frequently tossed off slur into something more profoundly funny.
There's a moment early in another parody film, the Wayans Brothers' Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, where the protagonist's mother says goodbye to him with the words "Sorry, baby. You know there ain't no positive black females in these movies." I feel like The FP could have done with a similar warning about its portrayal of women. The main female character, Stacy, serves the role of unattainable doormat, giving JTRO a gum-snapping, midrift-bearing princess to rescue from the physical and emotional abuses of the other men in the movie. It's a lazy cop-out, and one that causes the second half of the movie to suffer. As Stacy becomes the central figure in JTRO's life, too much of the movie is consumed by his attempts to win her away from her abusers and her reluctance to leave. It's a dreary break from the DDR awesomeness.
It's also an unnecessary one. Not only are there plenty of swashbuckling, gun-toting women in the genre films the Trosts are out to parody, The FP isn't a mere parody film. This isn't a parade of dystopian tropes trotted out in the style of the Scary Movie series. The Trosts looked at the world around them, at Frazier Park, and imagined what it would look like as a dystopian wasteland. They invented a suburban post-apocalypse where the gang leaders can live in sun-dappled, single-family homes with freshly mopped floors and violent beefs are solved on the dance pad. The FP is at its best when it's filled with that creative and silly energy. It's a shame that its edgier humor isn't as well thought-out.
There are plenty of folks who will immediately love The FP, who will connect with the Frazier Park dialogue and recognize their own hometowns in the wasteland and wild parties. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what's down the road for the Trosts, what happens when they learn to harness all that creative energy into a film with a little more thought behind its fun.