Saturday, November 1, 2008

Point Break

It's time for another retrospective movie review here at BMR. When the topic of 90's action movies arises, Point Break should definitely be mentioned near the top of the list. Sure, there's the requisite Van Damme and Seagal flicks that held that decade together, but putting the unlikely team of Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, and Patrick Swayze in this 1991 flick makes for one of the most over-the-top action spectacles you'll ever behold.

Point Break
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Patrick Swayze, John C. McGinley


A quick plot reminder if it's been a while (and yes, there will be SPOILERS from here on out): Johnny Utah (Reeves) and Angelo Pappas (Busey) are FBI agents trying to bring down a group of bank robbers that wear plastic masks of old presidents when they rob banks. Pappas' theory is that the group is comprised of surfers, and since surfers are notoriously territorial, they decide to send Utah in undercover to try to find the crew that's responsible. Utah learns to surf and gets into a relationship with a girl named Tyler (Lori Petty), who introduces him to Bodhi (Swayze) and his group of spiritual surfers on a quest for the ultimate ride.


It's been well-documented that I'm not the biggest fan of Patrick Swayze. Point Break proves that there is an exception to every rule - Swayze (though his character is about as one-dimensional as they come) plays zen-surf-guru Bodhi to perfection. His wild eyes, calm demeanor, and laid-back delivery accent an impressive physical performance [1]. Speaking of delivery, Keanu Reeves gives one of the most impressively stilted character renditions that I can remember. While some may scoff and consider this "bad acting," I find it extremely enjoyable for some reason - probably because I just like watching people who take themselves too seriously. Reeves' Johnny Utah is the hotshot rookie archetype, but Keanu brings a surprising depth to the role. When Utah realizes that Bodhi and his boys are actually The Ex-Presidents, he struggles internally with the decision to bring them to justice. Over the past few weeks, he has become their friend; Bodhi has shown him the true meaning to surfing and the impressionable rookie's life has been changed because of it. This is no longer a job for him - Johnny Utah has been converted, baptized in the ocean and shown a new kind of freedom that's inches away from the moral line that he's been walking his whole life. Watching Reeves battle with this realization is one of the better parts of this movie [2].


The supporting cast was solid but stereotypical. Gary Busey (before he went insane) was competent and entertaining as the bumbling elder Agent Pappas, and the presence of John C. "Dr. Cox" McGinley as their perpetually yelling bureau chief was a breath of fresh air that could have easily gone stagnant with another less capable actor.

I'm too lazy to go back and look any of this up, but as far as action movies go, I think Point Break was pretty innovative. The skydiving scene with Reeves jumping out of the plane without a parachute has been copied (intentionally or not) many times since. This is really the first "extreme sports" action movie out there, setting the "good guy goes undercover but gets too caught up in the game" template for plots like The Fast and The Furious, Drop Zone, and Cutaway (just to name a few). On a personal note, I've seen so many action movies that it's hard to keep tabs on which came out first and what plot devices were borrowed from what - if you watch Point Break today, you'll be hard pressed to find a scene that you haven't seen in another movie. Also adding to this factor is the film's status as an action movie staple, lovingly embraced in the film Hot Fuzz (see it) so much that half of that film is based on characters reacting as if they were in Point Break.


Cinematically speaking, Point Break is always moving. Whether it be the camera work (even in conversations the camera is slowly tracking back and forth on the actors), the fast-paced editing (there are very few boring scenes), or the well-choreographed shootouts and fight sequences, this movie gives you what you want to see. The only time it slows down is when it slows WAY down for super slo-mo shots of surfing (trust me, there are plenty). And while the plot isn't the most original thing you've ever seen, the ending (however cheesy) is one of my favorite parts. Utah has chased Bodhi across the world always a step behind, but knows exactly where he'll be at a certain time - the 50 Year Storm in Bells Beach, Australia. After a scuffle on the shore while the waves swell to gigantic proportions, Bodhi pleads with Johnny to let him go out and catch one final wave instead of being taken into federal custody. Utah, sympathetic to Bodhi's ideology since he has himself become a true believer in the power of surfing (he tells Bodhi he still surfs every day), grants him his last request and allows him to die in the biggest wave of the century.


The perfect ending, right? Or is it? There have been rumblings for a while about a Point Break sequel tentatively titled Point Break: Indo and set in Indonesia. Directed by Jan de Bont (Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control), the movie was supposedly going to feature "the most extreme action stunts ever caught on camera." The writer of the original wrote the sequel and production was set to start in mid-2008, but the project lost a lot of steam when Patrick Swayze contracted cancer and was sidelined from his acting career. Interesting to note - the movie would feature the return of Bodhi (he survived that wave? Not until I see the sequel on a big screen) but Johnny Utah would be replaced with a younger agent instead of having Reeves reprise his role. The admittedly-awful plot synopsis can be read here. I kind of hope they don't make this.

Finally, I just found out about a fantastic stage adaptation of the movie that takes place at a bar every weekend in LA (and now moving to Las Vegas) called Point Break LIVE! The play puts the audience in an immersive experience "putting [the audience] in the water with surfers, throwing you out the door of an airplane, and robbing you at gunpoint." And the best part is that the actor who plays Johnny Utah is chosen at random from the crowd every night (man or woman) and reads all the lines off cue cards (as a jab to Keanu's acting ability). Sound awesome? That's because it is. I really hope this show survives for the next year or two until we can all road trip to Vegas to see it. Until next time...

[1] Swayze and Reeves trained for two months before shooting with a former professional surfer in Hawaii. He refused to use a stunt double for many of his surfing scenes and incurred four broken ribs while performing them. He also did his sky-diving scenes himself, with the trainer proclaiming him "a natural."

[2] Initially, Matthew Broderick and Charlie Sheen were to star with Ridley Scott behind the camera. I doubt very seriously they could have pulled off the iconic performances we now cherish from Point Break. What a different movie that would have been...

1 comment:

goooooood girl said...

Good good good......