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Point Break

Until recently I was the guy who had never seen POINT BREAK. But the other day I busted my cherry on that matter, pardon my French, so I’m some other guy now.

I’m sure you’ve already seen it but let me refresh your memory: Keanu Reeves plays the perfectly named Johnny Utah, college football hero turned fresh-faced FBI rookie teamed with Gary Busey (in one of the first roles of his Crazy Post-Motorcycle Accident Period) to track down a gang of bank robbers who Busey (correctly) theorizes are surfers.

So Johnny Utah learns how to surf, immediately meets the group of surfers responsible for the bank robberies, and then continues his undercover work without realizing at first that these are the guys. The leader is Bodhi, played by Pat “ROADHOUSE” Swayze.

Point BreakThis is not one of the greats but it is surprisingly effective, and that’s because it’s got all the pieces in place. The pre-SPEED/MATRIX Keanu is actually pretty bad in the movie, even undercover as a surfer, but everyone else is perfect for their roles. Busey is at his crazy best. John C. McGinley (ON DEADLY GROUND) plays the uptight FBI chief. Lori Petty is an unorthodox choice for the surfing instructor/love interest. The director is Kathryn Bigelow, the talented but mostly forgotten badass woman director, who makes it all look real nice and knows how to shoot some good chase scenes and what not. The movie is even produced by the famed Jesus graverobber and Titaniphiliac James Cameron. So this has a pedigree.

This is also one of those action movies of the late ’80s, early ’90s that has all the ridiculous macho dialogue full of quips and boasts. They don’t really make this kind of movie too much anymore. For example, McGinley is always saying shit like, “You’re a real blue flame special, aren’t you, son? Young, dumb and full of come, I know. What I don’t know is how you got assigned here. Guess we must just have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?”

The most impressive scene is the first skydiving scene, where you clearly see Swayze jump out of the plane and float in the air, for real, no special effects. At this point in the movie Bodhi has figured out that Johnny Utah is a cop, and he says don’t worry, he knows how to handle it. And he surprises him and pressures him into skydiving. It’s a long, show-offy sequence so you have alot of time to worry about what he is trying to pull. He must’ve sabotaged the ‘chute, right? No. Or he’s gonna cut his ‘chute? Or trick him into crashing into a cliff? Eventually they land safely and Johnny is so full of adrenaline he just starts whooping and hollering and seems to no longer be worried about what Bodhi has planned for him. And because Bodhi’s character is such a weirdo I was actually convinced for a second there that that was his plan. Don’t worry, he’s an undercover cop planning to bust us, so I’ll show him the thrill of skydiving and he’ll see the light and let us go.

Of course, that’s not his plan and at this point he turns into a truly evil character, but I like that the scene can take you back and forth so many times.

But the most important element of the movie by far is Swayze’s performance. And this is probaly not gonna be too popular, but I have no choice but to defend Mr. Swayze in general. This is a guy who gets all kinds of shit and elicits the mockery of young ironists because he had a funny hair style and did some corny movies. And I agree, the shit is funny. But you also gotta be honest with yourself in the eyes of the Lord and admit that this guy is fucking great in these movies. He had already made his name in girlie movies like GHOST and DIRTY DANCING, so it was almost impossible to take him seriously as an action star. But he actually had the chops. In ROADHOUSE he was a fuckin badass. A hilarious, ridiculous philosophy-spouting badass, but you could tell he was really doing those moves, the guy was a panther. In this one he is actually less laughable because he fits the part of a surfer dude so well. He’s a god damn Adonis who somehow manages to find excuses for kickboxing on the beach.

But that physical stuff isn’t the most important thing. The reason I say this guy is great is because you can tell he believes what he’s saying. There’s no doubt about it, he put everything he had into these roles. If you watch him on the extras for this DVD or for ROADHOUSE you see that even to this day he takes the corny philosophy of his characters completely seriously, he really lives by those codes. The same goes for that movie TO WONG FOO, where he’s in drag, and he plays it serious just like Divine in POLYESTER. He doesn’t camp it up, he plays it like he’s just a regular house wife. Like he doesn’t even know he’s in a movie, that’s just his life.

So yes, laugh at Patrick Swayze, but give him some respect too.

Another thing that hit me is that, as over-the-top as the movie is, the idea of a group of surfers who rob banks is not all that far-fetched. The idea of them being thrillseekers so they surf, skydive and rob banks is pretty simplistic, but there is some small amount of truth to it in my opinion. For some reason it reminded me of this guy they caught in Olympia, Washington several years ago. I’m not sure if I ever wrote about this before but there was a guy who had robbed alot of banks, they called him Hollywood because of all the crazy disguises he wore. And apparently he was a real charmer, he would flirt with the tellers kind of like George Clooney in the beginning of OUT OF SIGHT, and they would always mention that he was really good looking when the police interviewed them.

He managed to rob I don’t know how many banks without ever firing a weapon. Sometimes that would mean he really didn’t carry bullets, but it turned out this guy did. Because eventually of course he wasn’t able to get away. They chased him into somebody’s trailer where for the first time he fired his gun, into his own head. When they figured out who the guy was it turned out he was an eccentric carpenter who lived in a treehouse. I mean, not like a children’s clubhouse, but an actual house he had built himself in a tree. It had been featured in newspapers and architectural magazines as “the treehouse with a guest room.”

You know what, I just looked it up and it turns out Ann Rule wrote a book about the guy called The End of the Dream. So you should probaly read that instead of my vague memories of the newspaper articles from when it happened. Or wait for them to adapt the book into a movie starring Patrick Swayze.

I also wasn’t aware, since I hadn’t seen this movie before, how much THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS lifted from it. They have the same basic template: straightlaced pretty boy (Paul Walker instead of Keanu) goes undercover with group of thrillseekers (street racers instead of surfers) with charismatic leader spouting macho philosophy (Vin Diesel: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.” Swayze: “This was never about the money, this was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human sprit is still alive.”) The cop has a sort of brotherly bond/enemy fear with the leader, and strikes up a relationship with a woman close to him (sister instead of ex-girlfriend) and they come to a manly emotional confrontation at the end.

Of course, FAST AND THE FURIOUS does have two big variations on the way the story is told that I liked. First, they skip over the wacky “learning how to street race” sequences by not telling you until a ways into the movie that Walker is undercover. (SPOILER for FAST AND THE FURIOUS.) And at the end they do what you kind of wish they would do in POINT BREAK, they have him bond with Vin Diesel enough that he lets him go and himself is a fugitive in part 2. (SPOILER)

At the end of POINT BREAK Bodhi dies surfing a giant wave (SPOILER) which sort of wipes out (get it, pun) the opportunity for an awesome sequel. I wish he got arrested at the end so they could do a part 2 now where the CIA has pinpointed the location of an Osama bin Laden type terrorist, but they only have a 48 hour window to get in and there’s a huge storm that is causing the most awesome waves on record. And the only way to get in is to send someone who can surf those mothers. So they let Bodhi out of prison and he redeems himself, it’s just like RAMBO, except with surfing.

Or you could also do it where prison has just made him worse, he’s totally Charles Manson crazy now but there’s a big flood at the prison and he manages to escape by surfing over the fence on a makeshift prison surfboard. So the only way the authorities (Gary Busey) can catch him is if they recruit the one guy who understands how his mind works, retired FBI Agent Johnny Utah. They track Utah down in South America somewhere. He has a huge bushy beard and he lives in a yurt, earns a humble living making hand-carved flutes, but they convince him to come out of retirement to track down Bodhi.

Well, since Bodhi seems to die at the end I don’t think you can go that route so instead they gotta say he really didn’t die. He washed up on an island near New Zealand or somewhere, he realized the error of his ways and settled down with a nice Maori woman and started a family. Meanwhile, Johnny Utah, having quit the FBI, became more and more bitter and eventually decided to start robbing banks wearing a Ronald Reagan mask himself. Somehow Bodhi finds out and realizes he has to catch Johnny so he can show him the error of his ways and teach him the beauty of family.

As you can see by my need for a POINT BREAK sequel, I enjoyed this one. It’s not necessarily my favorite type of movie, but it’s a type of movie I miss. If only today’s dumb action movies could be as fun as the ones of yesteryear.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2007 at 5:49 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Drama, Reviews, Sport, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Point Break”

  1. This was pretty good, and Bigelow then and perhaps now doesn’t get credit for how stylish she made it more than it might have been under other directors.

    And yes, the ending does kick ass. I like how James Cameron on that T2 commentary track bragged about having two movies in the same year end with a major character committing suicide. I always wondered if in script doctoring, Cameron was behind that idea. Just a muse.

  2. Hey Vern,

    I loved what you said about Swayze in this, he was a cool guy and I couldn’t agree more about the thing that matters most: he had heart. He really believed in the stuff he did, which is one of the greatest virtues in moviemaking in my opinion.

  3. I’ve always liked this one. It had the flash of a LETHAL WEAPON or DIE HARD without as much grit. Because of the surfer angle, it lacks the “urban jungle” vibe of most bank-robber movies. It works to it’s credit in a way because it has more of an outdoor atmosphere, and feels like another movie entirely in some parts.

    There was a report on CBS SUNDAY MORNING just recently about some guys who made tree houses like the guy Vern talks about. Mostly affluent white collar families, but one guy even made one for Sting and his wife. The real interesting thing that I learned from it was that with how they were built, over time the trees would adapt to the structure of the house and provide a stronger support.

  4. “The director is Kathryn Bigelow, the talented but mostly forgotten badass woman director”

    I guess that’s what it seemed like in 2007, when you wrote your review.

    Who knew she’d end up doing THE HURT LOCKER and winning the Best Director Oscar a few years later!

  5. So………….that trailer for the remake…*cough*.

  6. I believe that, like me, the people who read Vern’s site are extreme athletes who enjoy every second of it, and they don’t care how many brain cells get killed in the process.

  7. I like the look of it and the stunts, but I’m not convinced on the human beings. Swayze is so important to POINT BREAK because he seems so invested in that character and his philosophy. I think that’s the same reason why the unofficial POINT BREAK remake THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS worked so well, they managed to find in Vin Diesel that sort of lovable cult leader quality, that you can believe everyone follows him and that when he says “I live my life a quarter mile at a time” he is 100% sincere. The new Bodhi just seems like… some bland dude with a beard. But I’ll give him a chance.

  8. Jesus Christ a little color would be nice.

    What was one of the coolest things about POINT BREAK? the movie’s look. It had some beautiful sun filled scenery with lots of balanced colors and embraced all that shit. Even during the bonfire scene you get a nice color contrast.

    Now it’s all Nolan filtered and bleak looking. So even though they’re doing all these different extreme sports nothing really grabs the eye cause there is no visual vibrancy. It just looks generic and dull. Only really cool thing in the trailer to me is Ray Winstone as Gary Busey’s character but he’s too good of an actor for crap like this.

    Swayze was such a cool muthafucka. Like on paper movies like BLACK DOG, NEXT OF KIN, ROAD HOUSE and POINT BREAK should never have been as awesomely entertaining and engaging as they were but his presence elevates them tenfold. Like Vern already pointed out there was a lot of Swayze in Bodhi but that’s the thing like Seagal he was always the dude who brought some of his personal philosophy and way of being to his action movie characters. Which gave them even more gravitas as it made his characters pretty engaging. I definitely miss that guy. He was a true movie star which unfortunately is not something you can find in the remake.

    Good luck but I’m sure somewhere Kathryin Bigelow and executive producer James Cameron had a nice laugh watching that remake trailer.

  9. The pointless (pun fully aimed and intended) remake looks dead in the water. This original is just way too good and more than holds up 24 years later. Swayze’s rightly received credit for being the shaggy spiritual soul of the movie, but it’s easy to forget in light of his present-day awesomeness that this was Keanu’s cherry-breaking action role (ironically thanks to a female director who went to bat for him). And that he absolutely rocks in the role with charm, likability, physical prowess and a beautiful face.

    Plus you got Busey getting all the best (often improvised) scenes – “Two meatball sandwiches”, “Scooby, where are you? Here Scooby!”, McGinley doing the pissed off captain thing to perfection, and photography that adores the ocean in worshipful slow-motion surfing scenes, making you believe that these guys are not intentional scumbags but would rob banks to finance their endless summer and search for enlightenment.

    Don’t forget a foot chase with the intensity of a FRENCH CONNECTION – style car-chase.

    If this new one has even the tiniest iota of a soul, it should rub sex wax all over it’s body then go lay down at the feet of Bodhi and Utah and say Thank You.

  10. Yeah, when I saw the first commercial for the remake I turned to my friend and said, “The remake no one was asking for and no one will pay to see.”

  11. I smiled when Ice-T had to defend himself and the concept or remakes a few weeks ago on Twitter, when he said he would watch this movie. Say what you want about him, but that he is pro remakes, makes him already super cool in my book.

  12. The stunts look pretty great, and I’m always down to see that kind of thing on the big screen. But I’m trying to put my money where my mouth is concerning originality in storytelling, so I’m doing my best not to support any remakes or reboots or reimaginings or whatever cute new term they’ve come up with to hide the fact that they’re just cribbing off someone else’s exam. I’ll make exceptions if I feel like there’s some potential for some actual artistic expression going on, not just some poor desperate TV director taking a high-profile gig because the suits promised it’ll be good for his career. So POINT REMAKE, no. John Hyams’ MANIAC COP: REGENERATION, hell yes.

  13. Am I the only one here who’s actually SEEN this movie? (twice, actually). The critics beat this one like a red-headed stepchild, most of them content to rag on it as being inferior to Kathryn Bigelow’s movie by virtue of comparison (which it is). 2015 Point Break takes the basic structure of the original, then its storyline heads off in a different direction. The dramatic beats of the new PB are not impressive, the screenplay is a bit wan throughout, but the action sequences are WAY better than the original (a bigger budget certainly helped that facet).

    One thing that’s always annoyed me about the original was the speech Bodhi gives to his partners in crime after they’ve been made by the FBI:

    “This was never about money, it was about us against the system… a system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. For those poor souls inching along the freeway in their metal coffins, we show them the human spirit is still alive”.

    (Not verbatim, and to his credit Swayze sells the moment pretty well). Which is bullshit; they’re only robbing banks for the adrenaline rush and to avoid the need for a pesky day job so they can surf as they please. In the 2015 version, Bodhi and his crew actually DO have a secondary agenda that supports this claim. I was quite happy about that.

    Best of all is Luke Bracey as the new & improved Johnny Utah (some of you may recall him as Pierce Brosnan’s protege in THE NOVEMBER MAN). Don’t get me wrong; I like Keanu Reeves, always have, but onscreen he suggests a person whose intelligence level ranks him a few sandwiches short of a picnic. As with Reeves, Bracey does possess good looks and charisma, but he also comes across as mentally astute. Reeves seems like (then as now) a guy who rode the short bus to school as a kid.

    Give it a chance, but try and set Bigelow’s movie aside beforehand. You might enjoy it.

  14. Mr. M, I completely agree with you, but I still want to see the PB remake on the big screen in 3D. I am not expecting it to be good but it looks like it could be ridiculous enough it is enjoyable.

  15. I don´t think I´ll give a pointless remake like this a break. I am not anti-remake as I am not pro-remake either, but I can´t say I wouldn´t enjoy seeing people pirate the fuck out of this movie. I am certainly not gonna spend money on what looks like a big pile of doodoo

  16. I actually really want to see the remake too, but there are so many other movies on my list (all the Oscar shit mostly) so I haven’t gotten to it yet. Anybody have experience with the 3D version?

    I saw the trailer playing I think before THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, and it was the long trailer that shows you it’s about an FBI agent who goes undercover in a gang of thrill-seeking bank robbers who wear masks of presidents and do extreme sports like surfing and skydiving and are led by a philosophical new agey cult leader type guy named Bodhi and the FBI agent might be getting too close to him. And then at the end when it said “POINT BREAK” I swear like 15 or more people gasped, groaned and tsssskkked it. I thought it was funny for them to be so outraged about a remake of a movie that they clearly are not very familiar with if they didn’t recognize this as a remake of it. But I guess it speaks to the growing backlash against the rampant recycling in Hollywood.

  17. There is no strong reason to hate a remake of a movie that isn´t really a classic. Just a fondly remembered movie. But Jesus, people. let´s have some standards. The trailer looks like a mix of a SAAB commercial and TOP GEAR USA. How can anyone be excited for this?

  18. I’ve seen this movie a bunch of times and consider it a badass classic, there’s plenty of ways in which it reminds me of its best action contemporaries (in a good way), but it’s got a lot going on that makes it unique and original too. I fired it up again a few weeks ago, for the first time in several years, and a couple things hit me. Comparing it to other action films of the period (lets say 87-92), it’s not as classy and soulful as Lethal Weapon, but it does some things that set it WAY apart from run of the mill action movies of the time (and the movies that knocked it off):

    Procedural detail. The details of the bank robbing scenes, FBI investigations, etc., all still feel really credible and urgent and add a lot of flavor and, in concert with all the great L.A. locations, give a grounded foundation to an extremely crazy idea for a movie. This is the same year as Silence of the Lambs so this stuff wasn’t a cliche out of every detective TV show aroudn yet.

    High octane action. Let’s face it, a lot of action movies of that era, even ones that I consider stone classics, were very heavy on posturing. I don’t just mean the characters and dialogue, I mean when it was time for them to deliver on some thrills and chills you’d get some phoned in shit for the action. That trend got way worse as the 90s went on, but it still happened enough. But not Point motherfucking Break. When it’s time for shit to go down, you’re getting masterful building of tension through shot choice and editing, you’re getting incredibly visceral and bravura staging that makes you feel like you’re running with these guys through the slums of L.A., you’re getting badass and original stunts that take your breath away. The intensity of the action is what keeps the movie from being a punchline. Pure execution.

    (The other thing that hit me: the X-Files pilot totally rips this hard, except with Mulder as Gary Busey.)

    For as stunningly well made the movie is in every respect, what holds it back for me is the fact that everyone in the movie is a damn asshole for no reason. That sample dialogue in Vern’s review, while awesome, is how everyone in it talks all the time. It’s insane. This is the posturing thing again, but back then for some reason there were all these action movies where everyone was a fucking wiseass who greets everyone they see by talking about how much they hate them. It’s the main thing that ruins DIE HARD 2 for me as well.

    Anyway Vern you nail how Swayze pulls this off. Is there any question that he takes the movie to a higher level than ANY other actor could have, just because of his conviction and physical convincingness? When you throw in Busey and Keanu, it becomes clear that this is the most perfectly cast movie of all time because no other actors could have played any of these roles as well.

  19. […] director of THE HURT LOCKER, has permanently replaced Kathryn Bigelow, awesome director of POINT BREAK and BLUE STEEL. That’s okay, they’re both very good at what they do. DETROIT follows ZERO […]

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