Point Break (1991) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality, brief nudity and language
Running time: 120 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty, John C. McGinley, James LeGros, John Philbin, Bojesse Christopher, Julian Reyes, Daniel Bear, Lee Tergesen
Cameo: Anthony Kiedis, Tom Sizemore
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay: W. Peter Iliff
Review published July 8, 2008
Keanu Reeves (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, A Walk in the Clouds) plays former college star quarterback Johnny Utah, now an FBI agent, whose latest case is to crack a string of Southern California bank robberies committed by armed men in masks representing recent ex-Presidents of the US. The FBI is stumped, but Utah's partner, Pappas (Busey, Predator 2), has a hunch that the culprits must reside in the nearby surfer community. It's going to take a convincing athlete to get close enough to investigate, which means Utah needs to learn how to surf, and to help, he connects with a surfer girl named Tyler (Petty, Cadillac Man) who shows him the ropes and gets him in with a tight knit surfer crowd led by their philosophical guru of the waves, Bodhi (Swayze, Dirty Dancing). Little does Utah know that he's so close to cracking the case he can't see it before it's too late.
A guilty pleasure favorite for the mindless action crowd, Point Break suffers from a critical standpoint for its ridiculous script and hammy acting across the board. And yet, it does offer entertainment precisely because it is bad, and technically efficient from an action standpoint. If I had to compare it to another film, I'd probably choose Top Gun, as they are both slick but empty headed pieces of entertainment that are packaged together in a glossy way that keeps them interesting from a visual and editing standpoint, even when the characterizations are pat and the situations increasingly laughable. Coincidentally, both films have a high degree of unintentional(?) homoerotic subtexts ("You're going down" is Utah's favorite expression), further fueled by the persistent (but as of yet unfounded) notions that their good-looking actors play for the other team (even Utah's love interest has a boy's name, hairdo, and physique, if not the body parts).
That Point Break plays seriously is perhaps what makes it ultimately so enjoyable. It's hard not to snicker at Reeves' labored. mentally constipated performance ("I..am an F...B...I...Agent!"), the faux-spiritual philosophy spouted by Bodhi (whose nickname is "Bodhi-sattva"), and the ridiculous way that the FBI cracks their case (First, they think that surfers are the criminals based on a security tape that shows the tan lines on their asses, then they recognize the actual culprits by connecting their asses to the videotape). Bigelow's (Near Dark, K-19) direction of action remains the film's primary asset, as the scenes of shootouts and chases do crackle with energy, and there is plenty of good wave and surf footage to qualify as a surf film, even if it tends to drag out the story longer than it should. The scenes of skydiving, while wholly ludicrous from a plot perspective (characters emerge unscathed after opening parachutes literally a second before impact), are breathtakingly photographed and edited nonetheless.
While a critical misfire at the time of its release, there is a following among action fans that pushed Point Break up to cult camp status, and no less than three films in recent years have paid major homage to it (Hot Fuzz, Brice de Nice, and Fulltime Killer). If only the action sequences could have been wrapped up into a plausible story, we might have something to rank with Lethal Weapon/Die Hard, but the clichéd script is horrendous, which tends to also make actors of limited range seem even less talented. If you want to know how one can have a good time watching a bad movie, Point Break certainly is high on the list of examples. A terrible film by most standards, but an unintentional action camp classic.
©2008 Vince Leo