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.
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.
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-]