FP2: Beats of Rage
2019, NR, 89 min. Directed by Jason Trost. Starring Jason Trost, Art Hsu, Bru Muller, Mike O'Gorman, Tallay Wickham, Nick Principe.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 22, 2019
“Warning. The following film requires a three-drink minimum to fully enjoy” is a hell of a way to set up a film, but at least microbudget postapocalyptic sci-fi dance-off FP2 is honest.
The 2011 original (the second release from the Austin-based Drafthouse Films) was described in these very pages as what would happen if Mr. Miyagi locked the Karate Kid in a cellar with a battered VHS copy of Kickboxer for thrills, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" for style tips, and a catering pack of Pixy Stix for lunch. The original was a blast in the way that only a film that wants to be a cult favorite can be, and it didn’t seem to set up any kind of sequel. So of course it gets one.
“It’s hard to find your ass when you’re living in the past,” KCDC (Hsu) tells the burned-out fallen hero JTRO (Trost), who’s convinced that the FP is done and dusted, and should just be left to collapse into its booze-free future. Because booze is all there is, and without it, who would want to live in this scrubland? But when JTRO hears about a tournament that can save his hometown and bring enough booze to keep his people safe, then that’s enough to strap on his dance boots and best bandanna, and re-ninj.
If that’s making your head spin, then it may be time for that first drink. Break it down: In the future, everything has gone to some ill-defined hell, and dominance is established not through fighting, but competitive Beat-Beat Revelation (think Dance Dance Revolution, but no one has to pay for the rights). In 2011’s The FP, the fight was for the soul of Frazier Park, a nowhere trailer park in California (pop. 2,691).
Take another drink to steady your nerves for the arrival of soul-stealer AK-47 (O’Gorman), who sends the first film’s Rocky riff straight to a mix of Rocky IV hyperbole and V’s “one last fight” narrative (although we can all sleep pretty steely in knowing there’s unlikely to be a gritty Creed style spin-off). With face paint designed to make you go, “Is that Lurtz from The Lord of the Rings?” he’s the new challenger who literally dances his opponents to death. He’s every Eighties small-town sneering villain but then, that’s what The FP does best: throw every overblown pop culture into the blender, and chug it down. It’s not that there’s a wipe transition, it’s that there’s a wipe transition after a blue-tinged ghost turns up that is supposed to make you go, “Hey, that’s an Empire reference.” It’s cinema shorthand, a mosaic of recognizable moments that glues everything together and keeps the disbelief suitably suspended.
That third drink is the charm that will get you past all the flaws. Logic is not FP2’s métier or strong point (unfortunately, neither is pacing, as the energy demanded for fun depletes during the second act, when JTRO takes his hero's journey through the abyss and the action grinds to a very Eighties-style montage-driven halt). Treating arcades as sacred places, and Megaforce and Conan the Barbarian as holy texts, it’s utterly unforgiving if you’re not down with its overblown, under-budget enthusiasm. Even hardened fans will probably benefit from a rewatch of the original, but then it doesn’t really matter. Because FP2 is all stupid surface, held together by Trost’s surly charm. It may be filled with dumb “beat off” puns, but it’s just smart enough to be all heart.