Fantastic Fest Review: FP2: BEATS OF RAGE Sure Is A Sequel To THE FP

JTRO returns to beat off once more.

You either loved The FP, or you hated it. Brothers Jason and Brandon Trost created a post-apocalyptic world where the number-one pastime was Dance Dance Revolution clone Beat Beat Revelation - a game whose matches were so high-stakes, they could kill (referred to as a “187”). Dominated by neon, gangs, and a hyper-aggressively “street” dialect, the film hit the festival circuit just before pop culture started being taken over by coarse ‘80s throwbacks like Kung Fury. Now, of course, to put it in the film’s parlance, dat shits iz everywhere, dog.

None of that has changed in the sequel. The world of FP2 still looks like an all-American cross between Mad Max, Desperate Living, and Tron. People still speak in a slang so stylized it's hard to follow at times, let alone take it seriously. Booze still serves a similar narrative purpose as gasoline did in the Mad Max films, and it’s scarcer than ever. But Beats of Rage takes a mythic turn to fantasy adventure, with wider landscapes, weirder mysticism, and even an opening sequence framing its world as some kind of Middle-Earthy realm. 

Into all this steps the first film’s eyepatched hero JTRO (Jason Trost), now a mumbly, down-and-out loser who’s seen so much shit his voice sounds like Elias Toufexis in the Deus Ex games.  He's visited by a mysterious figure promising “bottomless booze forevs” as long as he can defeat AK47, a villainous newcomer with glowing red eyes who rips people’s souls from their bodies. Thus, JTRO must travel to the fabled Wastes with hype-man KCDC and “re-ninj” himself in order to build up his skills and take down the bad guy. In doing so, meets another mysterious figure - Chai-T, a female competitor in the “Beat-off.” She's Australian; it turns out the only thing more annoying then the slang language of The FP is...the slang language of The FP mixed with Australian vernacular.

JTRO’s journey to triumph becomes a spirit quest of sorts, diving into his family history. He's periodically visited by the ghost of his brother BTRO, and becomes reunited with his father NITRO. Both men pump JTRO up for his match against AK-47 (who’s also connected to the family), and surprisingly, they do it primarily by revealing that his mother MOMTRO (yes) was the true Beat Beat master of the family, assuring JTRO that he’s got his mother’s touch. The whole plotline strives to be a dynastic sports drama - just, a sports drama drenched in disco lighting, ridiculous art direction, and even more ridiculous dialogue. The film’s silly-serious tonal mixture works best when discussing family, and though MOMTRO only exists in memory, her invocation at least attempts to ameliorate the emphatically bro-y nature of the film. 

Since The FP’s release, co-director Brandon Trost has gone on to become an exceptionally in-demand cinematographer - in particular, raising the bar on how studio comedies are shot. Accordingly, he wasn’t involved in FP2, with brother Jason flying solo. But despite Brandon’s absence behind the camera, the production value is still a step above the first film, clearly benefiting from advances in digital cinematography - and a higher, partially crowdfunded budget. The art direction in particular is super-strong, demonstrating the kind of bonkers world-building you’d hope from a movie like this. There’s also a pretty terrific training montage towards the third act that’s hard not to get swept up in. You doesin’ it, JTRO. You doesin’ it.

The problem with Beats of Rage is the exact same one that plagued its predecessor. No matter how hard Trost and company try to play it straight, to elevate their storytelling, it’s always going to come off as a joke. This is still a movie where the most deadly activity imaginable is a dance-off game - a movie that feels like a YouTube sketch stretched to feature length. In fact, it's the attempts to make the film more serious that end up falling the flattest - reflected, oddly enough, in its score, which hits on emotional wailing so frequently it grates. There’s only so far you can push this concept, and Trost may have found its ceiling.

Your mileage with FP2 will depend entirely on your relationship with the first movie. There’s definitely an audience for its particular brand of nutso wackiness, and the film does it well. Certainly, few other films exhibit this particular level of stylised dialogue patter. It’s just down to whether you dig that style or not. If you do, you’ll get exactly what you expect. If you don’t, you’ll be so annoyed you’ll wish you’d been 187ed.