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Fantastic Fest Review: 'Beats of Rage' (2018)

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

The official theatrical poster for, "Beats of Rage."

The official theatrical poster for, "Beats of Rage."

The Beat-Off of the Century!

Six years ago, Drafthouse Films and Image Entertainment released The FP on DVD and Blu-ray (the Blu is now out of print) and that was essentially the world’s introduction to the unbelievable talent that is Jason Trost. Trost is an American filmmaker who has made a career out of writing and directing films that are extremely low budget (five of his six directed films were made between an estimated $5,000 and $60,000), but Trost has a way of stretching those thin budgets to the extreme. His films look and feel bigger than they are. Now Trost has returned with the sequel to The FP, Beats of Rage, and the sequel is not only a passion project that feels like a love letter to the fans of the original film but is Trost’s most ambitious film to date.

Ten years have passed since the original film and JTRO (Trost) has turned his back on Beat-Beat Revelation (aka Dance Dance Revolution) and Frazier Park (aka The FP). It takes the death of JTRO’s former trainer BLT (Nick Principe) and a constant badgering from KCDC (Art Hsu) for JTRO to consider a return. Now JTRO must endure a Beat-Beat tournament (in matches known as beat-offs) long thought to be an urban myth called Beats of Rage against AK-47 (Mike O’Gorman), the leader of the Wastes, in order to bring a limitless supply of alcohol back to The FP.

There is a massive personal admiration for Lee Valmassy’s villainous character L Dubba E from the first film, but AK-47 is a gradual step up on the villain chain for this franchise. AK-47 throws random Spanish words at his opponents with a giant blue hand print on his face and an actual red cow skull strapped to his back. He sniffs his hand in an effort to psyche himself up before a match while those unfortunate enough to lose to him have their souls sucked by that very hand in homage to Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat. Mike O’Gorman is this unstoppable force in the role with a demanding screen presence and an explosive personality that engulfs everyone around him.

Even with their limited budget, the costume design has always been top notch in The FP films and that’s thanks to Jason’s sister Sarah. Sarah’s work was incredible in the previous film, but she outdoes herself in Beats of Rage. Sarah’s designs are even more intricate this time around with villains dipping into the likes of Big Trouble in Little China and heroes being a direct tribute to Escape from L.A. Jason Trost has a love for video games, which was apparent in the first film. What’s interesting is that the first film seemed to have a heavy influence of not only Dance Dance Revolution but also Street Fighter and side-scroller beat ‘em up video games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage.

Mike O'Gorman as AK-47.

Mike O'Gorman as AK-47.

Beats of Rage has more of a Mortal Kombat feel to it with, "Finish him!" being yelled on more than one occasion, AK-47's obsession with soul sucking, and the apocalyptic feel of the film coinciding with AK-47's domain The Wastes which seems like a direct reference to Mortal Kombat's Wastelands of Outworld. With Mortal Kombat being more mature in content in comparison to Street Fighter or Streets of Rage, Beats of Rage takes a gradual step towards being more mature than its predecessor as well. The FP was more about street cred and representing your hometown while Beats of Rage seems to relish in hopelessness. The world has been flushed down the toilet and the protagonist has little interest in attempting to save it again. The post-apocalyptic aura of Beats of Rage is solidified with its Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome chant that is way catchier than it should be. "Two ninjas role in, one ninja roles out!"

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But there’s something deeper found within Beats of Rage that isn’t a part of The FP. If you follow Jason Trost on social media, he became incredibly frustrated with filmmaking. Trost hasn’t reached the financial success he would have liked after writing and directing six films. Before the crowdfunding campaign began for Beats of Rage, Trost made it known publicly that he strongly considered giving it all up because he was sick of sleeping on people’s couches. That frustration turned into determination and Beats of Rage materialized. However, that bitterness bled over into the JTRO character. JTRO has gotten older and cynical since we last saw him. He’s The FP’s savior, but he couldn’t care less about it. He spends his days selling bootleg Bop-Its out of his storage unit and drinking booze out of a Listerine bottle. JTRO’s disdain for his supposed destiny makes his journey all the more interesting.

Jason Trost and Art Hsu as JTRO and KCDC in, "Beats of Rage."

Jason Trost and Art Hsu as JTRO and KCDC in, "Beats of Rage."

The only real issue Beats of Rage has, and this may be a personal preference, but they’ve all but scrapped the Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished concept and replaced with what they refer to as, “Re-Ninj,” which is short for Re-Ninja. JTRO battles what is known as The Rage throughout the sequel. Embracing who he is, being at peace with that, and allowing a calmer mind to persevere over an angry one is basically what, “Re-Ninj,” stands for. The ridiculous slang is still quite apparent, which is part of what made The FP so fun and thankfully there’s another Rocky montage which everyone should appreciate.

According to Wikipedia, Jason Trost never made any money from The FP and it was incredibly difficult to pursue a sequel to a film that made practically nothing at the box office. For all of our sake, Indiegogo exists and fans have the ability to support the filmmakers that they love. Beats of Rage just had its world premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest. It is absolutely a bigger and better film than its predecessor; the music alone is synth-fueled 80s-inspired heaven. This definitely feels like something Trost pursued because fans demanded it and ended up rekindling the love for his own work.

Beat-offs have become flashier and deadlier over the past decade in, "Beats of Rage."

Beat-offs have become flashier and deadlier over the past decade in, "Beats of Rage."

With its brilliant costume design, amazing score, outrageous dialogue, memorable characters, and the ability to tap into an overflow of nostalgia, Beats of Rage is an outrageous comedy that is destined to be a cult classic. This is the type of universal beat-off that deserves to be seen by everyone. Here's hoping Jason Trost's proposed trilogy for The FP stays on track to see the light of day sooner rather than later.

© 2018 Chris Sawin


Teodor Johnson on September 27, 2018:

Great! I sometimes arrange role-playing games in this style with my favorites from Very extraordinary of course, but it really winds me up.

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