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Movie Review: THE FP, or Trying to Kickstart a Cult

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The “so bad it’s good” movie is a rare and precious commodity.  There’s a reason that these films become staples of the midnight movie and MST3K crowds; the genuine article is utterly guileless in its intentions.  I’m sure that when director Hal Warren started production on his Manos: The Hands of Fate, he thought that the film’s modest (read: squatter’s den-level) production values added verisimilitude to an otherwise rote supernatural chiller.  That his title character looked scary, despite carrying himself – in both clothing and demeanor – with the air of an especially prissy junior-college professor.  That Torgo, Manos’ demented sidekick, looked more like a hell-being warped through years of service to dark forces than an awkward amateur thespian struggling with near-impenetrable exposition.  To paraphrase the actual “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode that skewered Manos, Warren got so caught up in making a taut thriller that he barely noticed that neither he nor any of his crew possessed the talent/creativity to make a good movie.

True “so bad it’s good” movies happen through an effable mixture of incompetence and luck; to put it another way, The Room‘s “auteur” Tommy Wiseau might claim now that his awful movie masterwork was intentionally flawed, but the end result (as well as the recollections of nearly everyone who survived The Room‘s shooting schedule) speaks to a different ambition.  You can see it in Manos, in The Room, in Troll 2 and The Wicker Man and The Happening and Season of the Witch (Nicolas Cage is the genre’s poet laureate) and Superman 3 and 88 Minutes and Street Fighter 2: The Return of Chun Li, in any movie where the levels of ambition and idiocy soar to unrestricted levels.

Here’s my problem with The FP: it isn’t a “so bad it’s good” movie.  The FP belongs to a curious film subgenre that has popped up in recent years; like Birdemic, Chillerama, and both Cranks, it merely wants to be “so bad it’s good.”  I suppose I have to blame Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse for kickstarting this trend; in order to homage the trash cinema of yesteryear, Grindhouse exaggerated not only these movies’ hyperviolence and nonsensical plotting but also their technical limitations (film defects, missing reels).  Yet Tarantino and Rodriguez genuinely loved the Nightmare Cities and White Line Fevers of their youth, and you felt that ardor in every painstakingly crappy frame.  By comparison, I can imagine the FP‘s directors – the Trost brothers – cackling at something like The Warriors or The Room and grunting, “That was soooo stupid.  Bet we can make something that dumb.”

It’s why I found their movie so airless.  The elements are there for a classic “so bad it’s good” entry – it’s The Warriors meets Dance Dance Revolution, as roving bands of street gangs (sporting ensembles that resemble what a deeply square 1930’s filmmaker might have thought hoodlums would look like in the big bad future of…1983) do battle against one another through the “Beat Beat Revolution” video game – except the Trost brothers don’t think any of this is actually cool.

Instead, it’s “cool,” and those ironic quotations surround every deliberately cheesy, deliberately awkward story beat.  The actors deliver every stupid line with a nod and a wink, when not knowing they were in on the joke would be funnier.  That’s the brilliance of Tommy Wiseau’s lead Room performance; he thinks his subliterate relationship musings (or, better yet, deranged rantings) have the force of a Shakespearian soliloquy.

Ultimately, it all comes down to caring.  I don’t care about BTRO’s untimely death or the evil stylings of Big Bad L Dubba E or the hero’s journey that broken JTRO must endure to master “Beat Beat Revolution” and win control of Frazier Park.  I don’t care because the Trosts don’t care.  It’s just a gag to them (a gag that overdoses on “hilariously” inane character names, apparently), even though it never was to the people behind their inspirations.  Walter Hill wanted the Warriors to make it back to Coney Island.  Tommy Wiseau wanted to offer profundities into male-female relationships.  Nicolas Cage wanted to find out how it got burned.  Hal Warren wanted Manos to terrify and awe audiences everywhere.

The Trosts?  They want a movie that goes well with Funyuns and pot.  The irony is, to achieve that, you have to aim much higher.

I take issue with the movie, but I can’t fault Image and Drafthouse’s Blu-ray.  This is a beautiful looking disc – the picture quality belies The FP’s low-budget origins – and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is aggressive and clean.

Supplements are also stacked.  The Trosts give an energetic audio commentary; there a three-part “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplsihed: The Making of The FP” behind-the-scenes documentary; the FP in The FP: A Return to Frazier Park featurette; red-and-green-band theatrical trailers; and even a sixteen-page booklet with essays from FP fans Rob Zombie, Mark Neveldine, and Brian Taylor (the latter two directed Crank, natch).  Also neat: the disc comes with a digital copy and reversible cover art (I prefer the Drafthouse’s custom poster art on the flip side, but that’s just me).   If you love the movie, the Blu-ray gives it the most respectful treatment possible.

And hey, maybe pretending to be “so bad it’s good” works for most of you, in which case, I say, go with God and The FP.  For me, however, I need a little more to think less of this kind of movie.

The FP streets on June 19th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.