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Point Break (30th anniversary revisit)

July 12, 1991

Hot on the heels of James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY came the other most important action movie of summer ’91, Kathryn Bigelow’s POINT BREAK. Cameron was famously married to Bigelow at the time, and is credited as executive producer, and the film has parallels to his in its technical perfection and intensity of action. The pair had reworked an original script called JOHNNY UTAH by W. Peter Iliff (PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS), co-story credit to Rick King (director of PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS), with Cameron doing a last minute pass to improve the action scenes before immediately shifting to T2. “She basically is 100% responsible for the final film from that point on,” Cameron reportedly said at a convention in ’91. And clearly it’s Bigelow’s combination of impeccable craft and counterintuitive artistic choices that made POINT BREAK a hit, then a cult favorite, then an enduring classic.

The choice that seemed crazy at the time, and prophetic now, was her insistence on casting Keanu Reeves as the college football legend turned overachieving FBI rookie Johnny Utah. By all accounts Bigelow had to fight for Reeves, because producers wanted someone else. That’s understandable – he’d been in the dark indie thriller RIVER’S EDGE and the period piece DANGEROUS LIAISONS, but was best known to the world as Ted from BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, with whom he inescapably shared a lovable stoner airhead sounding voice. On the other hand, when the movie was almost made by Ridley Scott a few years earlier he’d had Matthew Broderick in the role. You’re telling me that made more sense!?

Reeves’ performance was mocked by some. In 2003 some Seattle people I knew started Point Break Live!, the central joke of which was to pick someone out of the audience to play Johnny Utah unrehearsed, reading from cue cards. (The show became a cult hit playing for years in L.A., New York and other cities, with Bigelow even attending once and Lori Petty playing Johnny another time.) I know those were people who appreciated the movie, but I think there was a time when some considered it a “so bad it’s good” type deal. I never felt that way, but when I first reviewed it in 2007 I said Reeves was “actually pretty bad in the movie.”

What I see now that I didn’t then is how interesting the contradictions are. Johnny’s voice sometimes plays as dumb, but Mr. top-2%-at-Quantico’s words are sharp as a tack. On his first day at the FBI office his boss Harp (John C. McGinley in the same year as HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING) tries to overwhelm him with a lightning-speed walk-and-talk, but Johnny keeps up and even laps him with wiseass responses (“I guess we must have ourselves an asshole shortage.” “Not so far.”)

While undercover as a surfer to identify a gang of summertime bank robbers, Johnny occasionally amps up the Ted voice to the fit the stereotype. But he’s tall and good looking in a way that fits with the locals considering him a yuppie tourist. Within the FBI, though, he’s the weirdo underdog. Harp is furious that he un-self-consciously carries his surfboard around with him at headquarters. And in addition to being the rookie, the 22-year-veteran he’s been paired with, Pappas (Gary Busey, PREDATOR 2), is already a source of mockery for his (correct) theory about the robbers being surfers (deduced in part by finding traces of what could be Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax on a bank counter). When smarmy Alvarez (Julian Reyes, DIE HARD 2) and Babbit (Daniel Beer, HELL HIGH) come over to make fun of him, they giggle like high school bullies, immediately turning Pappas and Utah into the freaks & geeks you can root for.

If you’ve been following this summer of ’91 series you know I see it as a time of evolution for the way women could be depicted in popular entertainment, particularly in THELMA & LOUISE and T2. POINT BREAK flips this around by having a woman behind the camera who defies assumptions and seems interested in exploring different types of masculinity. She casts smooth-bodied, dreamy-eyed Reeves as the triumphant hero and bounces him off of barking man’s-man character actors Busey, McGinley and Tom Sizemore. It’s a high testosterone world she’s depicting, with only one major female character: Lori Petty (BATES MOTEL) as Tyler Endicott, the local Johnny convinces to teach him surfing and then falls for.

According to a retrospective in Rolling Stone, Bigelow “retooled W. Peter Iliff’s script to toughen up the female protagonist, morphing her from a blond beach babe to a muscled, brash waitress with an androgynous name and physical features.” I couldn’t find the earlier draft, but Bigelow’s describes Tyler’s “Swimmer’s shoulders. Long muscular legs. Lean and mean.” Petty was known for the TV show Booker, and her only movie had been CADILLAC MAN. The next year she’d do A LEAGUE OF HER OWN, and eventually TANK GIRL would become the ultimate cinematic expression of her specific brand of spunky, non-conformist, tomboyish spirit. She was arguably as far from the traditional choice as Reeves was, and balanced him perfectly.

There’s one subtle parallel to the simultaneously-written T2 in that we get to see Tyler’s arrest record on a computer screen. Her rap sheet is much longer than John Connor’s, but it’s mostly speeding tickets. She’s also like John Connor in that she teaches the stiff Johnny Utah how to do and feel some things.

But Tyler’s disdain for and then attraction to Johnny is palpable, and the physical consummation of their relationship has a sensuality it’s hard to picture being present if the movie were directed by a dude. They start to kiss in the water at night, and it cuts to them waking up in daylight on the beach. It completely skips over the fucking in the sand part in favor of Johnny in a panic, rushing to get dressed and get to a stakeout he’s supposed to be at, but then stopping to lovingly kiss Tyler repeatedly. They seem so genuinely into each other it feels voyeuristic.

But the real love story of the movie is, of course, the friendship and rivalry between Johnny and surf-philosopher-king/armed robbery ringleader Bodhi (Patrick Swayze, fresh off of GHOST, which has already been parodied in NAKED GUN 2 1/2). Fortunately this was before the term “bromance,” though it was when male friendships in movies were often labeled “homoerotic.” Swayze said in interviews at the time that he “wanted to play it like a love story between two men.” I honestly can’t tell how literally he meant that, but the development of their friendship really does play like a dating scenario: they meet via mutual friend Tyler, Bodhi scoffs at him but then realizes he saw him play football before and hits it off with him, later runs into him by chance (during a brawl), walks him to his car and invites him to a party at his house. I mean, come on!

A weird thing about the movie I often forget is how long it takes Johnny to figure out that the guys he’s hanging out with are the armed robbers. It seems like a given to the audience, but Johnny has his eye on Warchild (Vincent Klyn, CYBORG, KICKBOXER 2, BLOODMATCH) and friends, or as I usually think of them, “Anthony Kiedis and those guys.” They attack Johnny on the beach for no reason and swerve around on the freeway standing up in a Jeep like they’re in a MAD MAX movie. Bodhi calls them “Nazi assholes” and says “they live to get radical. They don’t have any understanding of the sea, so they’ll never get the spiritual side of it.” Johnny winds up being backup on a raid of their house, and they’re armed to the teeth and ready to go out in a blaze of glory, but are not the robbers – they’re selling meth. So when Johnny finds out that the guy he thought was his cool new friend is actually the one he needs to bust it breaks his heart.

There’s a key turning point when Johnny correctly guesses when and where they’re going to rob next, but the stake out is fucked up by Pappas’ love of meatball sandwiches. Instead of preventing the robbery they give chase afterwards. Johnny catches up to the disguised Bodhi on foot, and gets enough of a look to know that’s his friend’s eyes behind the Ronald Reagan mask. He almost shoots, but can’t do it, fires in the air and tells a disbelieving Pappas that he missed.

But he shouldn’t have shot him! That was an unarmed man with his back turned! What the fuck!

Swayze was a one-of-a-kind movie star, and I realized years ago that my favorite thing about him is his potent aura of sincerity. Even in his silliest roles (not that this is one of them) he never seems laughable or foolish in the way ego driven alpha-males like Seagal sometimes do, because his self confidence doesn’t come off as self obsession. He’s more innocent than that, even here, where he’s the bad guy.

In this role in particular he seems to absolutely believe that “he’s a modern savage, he’s a real searcher,” and all the “Zen surf master” / “surfing guru” / bodhisattva stuff he says. He also fully invests himself in the physicality of the role, from the sun-bleached tips of his flowing hair to his perfectly sculpted body. I’m no fitness guy but I think his build is different from how it was for ROAD HOUSE. Perfectly ripped, but a little more compact, less beefy, like he designed the exact figure needed for a surfer as opposed to a bouncer.

And then he’s up there (sometimes) riding those waves, he throws himself into the beach football game, hauling ass in a belly-exposing t-shirt and jeans, leaping and tackling Johnny and rolling on the sand. He glides in to do some great Dalton style kicks on Warchild (real name: Lupton Pitman) and friends when they’re beating up Johnny. And when he skydives – something Swayze did do for real, reportedly performing 55 jumps for the movie – you can see his dancerly form as he drops out of the plane and pulls his legs up to his face. It’s also a more complex character than many Swayze has played, because he uses all his charm to be the most likable guy in the movie, to be convincing in his crusade, but ultimately he’s flawed and toxic and full of shit, swearing “I hate violence!” but willing to use Rosie (Lee Tergesen, MIND BENDERS) as a “mechanism” to kidnap and threaten Tyler, no different from the presidents he lampoons in his crime spree.

But then somehow you’re still relieved he gets to surf that 50 year storm, going out on his own terms!

Bigelow and her team – including d.p. Donald Peterman (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, FLASHDANCE) and editor Howard E. Smith (RIVER’S EDGE, NEAR DARK, THE ABYSS) – are just as sturdy and agile as Swayze when it comes to action filmmaking and visual storytelling chops. Of course the film is novel for its high amount of great surfing footage and its two incredible skydiving sequences, with clever practical effects for closeups and dialogue, but also many shots of the actors in actual free fall. But man, does Bigelow know how to shoot an exciting action scene. Or an exciting scene in general! The controlled handheld and whip pans following Johnny and Harp in the walk and talk, or the gang during the robberies. The closeups of the gang putting their gear on in the car pre-robbery, cut like a Rambo suiting up montage. The robbery going into the gas station car burning (where Jeff Imada almost gets torched) going into Johnny vs. Bodhi residential area pursuit, honestly one of the best foot chase scenes I know of.

And you know what, I’m gonna honor the raid on Warchild’s house with a separate paragraph or two, because that scene is amazing. When Pappas knocks on the door saying he’s looking for his dog Scooby, a woman credited as “Fiberglass” (Kimberly Martin) answers the door and tries to get rid of him, as the various tattooed, shaved and braided shirtless dudes in the house realize something is up and run for their literal pile of guns. For her trouble poor Fiberglass gets taken hostage and then accidentally cut through by Warchild screaming and firing some crazy machine gun like he thinks he’s Arnold in PREDATOR. Bigelow creates a masterful feeling of controlled chaos – you know what’s going on but you never know when the close quarters gun fight will be punctuated by chaos like Kiedis’ character Tone screaming as a gory hole is blown through his foot, or the woman (Julie Michaels, ROAD HOUSE) Johnny saw in steamy-shower-door silhouette when he looked in the window bursting out, still naked and beating the shit out of him. (Michaels later played the shower-babe-who’s-actually-an-undercover-FBI-agent in the opening of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY.)

And there’s a great device involving a lawnmower. First, Johnny has to duck in the bushes to not be spotted by the guy mowing the lawn. Then the noise from it prevents Alvarez and Babbit from hearing his warning over the walkie-talkie. And later when the fight moves into the yard, Johnny’s face is nearly pushed into the spinning blades of the mower.

It’s also just a gorgeous looking movie with all its sunshine and water. I think it’s relevant that Peterman had previously shot Ron Howard’s water-based movies SPLASH and COCOON. I love the way he shoots the meet-cute between Johnny and Tyler, where she rescues him from drowning and then yells at him that he has “no business whatsoever out here.” They’re shot beautifully silhouetted, a striking image that captures the time of day and has the added bonus of stylistically matching later shots where they’re trying to disguise stunt doubles.

So there’s no question this is a great action movie. But what is it about? In one of her few appearances on the blu-ray extras, Bigelow describes it as “the world of surfing vs. the penal system,” which I’d love to hear the director (who has a master’s degree in theory and criticism) explain further. But my interpretation is that Johnny comes from the rigid world of law and order and a boss who yells at him and tells him what to eat, and he sees the appeal of this other world where you get to “find yourself” and look a wave in the eye and “accept its energy and then get in sync with it,” and do things that feel like “sex with the gods,” and you can make your own schedule, even sleep in with your girlfriend (on the beach) instead of getting up and running to work to get your face shoved in a lawnmower.

The president masks (and calling their plane Air Force One!) indicate a more specifically political statement that I’m not sure is there. Certainly the images of a guy in a Reagan mask using a gas pump as a blow torch have a certain ghoulish resonance for those of us who already see him that way. But I think the emphasis is on a bohemian lifestyle, an anti-9-to-5, pro-seeking-enlightenment-through-thrills philosophy. Bodhi has disdain or pity for people who spend their lives commuting to joyless jobs rather than finding something he sees as spiritual to do with their lives, like surfing – which is “a state of mind, where you lose yourself, before you find yourself.” He’s disappointed to hear the lie that Johnny is a lawyer, but says, “Well, life’s not over yet. You’re surfin.” He believes his is a whole different way of life: “We can exist on a different plane. We can make our own rules.” And based on his inspirational speech to the troops after they’ve found out that Johnny is an FBI agent, but before they’ve killed or kidnapped anyone, I think Bodhi really believes he’s making an important statement to the world. “This was never about money for us. It was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something… we show them that the human spirit is still alive.”

But there’s a dark side he’s not addressing, a self-destructive addiction to danger. When the others are freaking out that a federal agent has identified them, Bodhi’s actually excited about it: “All this does is up the stakes of the game.” Tyler, who used to date Bodhi, has him and his friends pegged. She’s pretty observant about dumb shit men do (“God, men are so bad at this”), but also I think because of the way her parents died she takes life and death more seriously than they do. (That’s why when she discovers Johnny is FBI the first thing she asks is if his parents really died – a cruel lie he told her to get close to her.) She says that “Big wave riding is for macho assholes with a death wish.” She calls Bodhi’s dream of surfing a 50 year storm “banzai bullshit” and frets that Johnny’s “got that kamikaze look.” And sure enough, when Bodhi does see the 50 year storm it ends up being a means of suicide.

The one thing about Tyler that sits a little odd with me is how she’s furious about the betrayal of starting a relationship as an undercover mission, then is violently abducted by her supposed friends because of it, but when she’s released she runs right into his arms. But I suppose she now has the clearest possible understanding of why those guys need to be busted. And we know – though she doesn’t – how sincere Johnny is in his feelings for her. We saw him laying on his bed clutching the phone to his bare chest waiting for her call before the boys showed up to force him to skydive as a trust exercise before showing all their cards.

In the end Johnny finishes the job and then throws his badge in the water, and it seems to me it’s more with the satisfaction of quitting and being free than with the disgust with The System that Dirty Harry had when he did the same thing. It’s even established in that epilogue (taking place after a prolonged international chase, and filmed after BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY) that Johnny is still surfing. “Every day,” he says. Like the kid at the surf shop (Christopher Pettiet, the lady’s man little brother from DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD) told him when he bought his first board, “Hope you stick with it. It’ll change your life.”

Bodhi may not survive, but what he preached lives on in Johnny.

POINT BREAK opened at #4 at the box office, beneath T2, a re-release of 101 DALMATIONS, and BOYZ N THE HOOD. But it eventually made $84.5 worldwide on a $24 million budget, and found even more of an audience on video and cable. By the time there was a remake in 2015 it was held so sacred that I have still never once talked to another person that saw the remake or wasn’t kinda disgusted that I had.

This was the first film by the production company Largo Entertainment. Some of their later films include DR. GIGGLES, MALCOLM X, JUDGMENT NIGHT, TIMECOP, G.I. JANE and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES.

Reeves, of course, fulfilled Bigelow’s prophecy and became a great action star via SPEED (1994), THE MATRIX (1999), MAN OF TAI CHI (2013) and JOHN WICK (2014), and is now less mocked and more beloved by most people who aren’t dumbfucks. Swayze continued to be a captivating and passionate actor until his tragic death of cancer at age 57 in 2009. I wish he could’ve done more action movies later on. Maybe he was afraid he couldn’t top this one. BLACK DOG was pretty good, though.

Rick King, who came up with the surfer bank robbers concept, would next do KICKBOXER 3: THE ART OF WAR. Screenwriter W. Peter Iliff went on to write PATRIOT GAMES, VARSITY BLUES and UNDER SUSPICION. He also wrote a sequel called POINT BREAK: INDO. I actually read a draft that was rewritten by John Morgan, to be directed by Jan de Bont in 2008. It had a gang of sea pirates called The Bush Administration, with Bush, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell masks. The hero was an ex-Marine surfer named Billy Dalton and there were these scenes of a guy whose face you don’t see recuperating with a shaman in a hut having dreams about a mysterious surfer, but only the guy in the dream turns out to be Bodhi and not the guy in the hut. Which made me wonder if they wanted it to be Bodhi but couldn’t count on it since Swayze was sick at the time.

At any rate, the end credits were supposed to take place over a “Hawaiian Surfers Tribute” ceremony with famous surfers and cast members from the first movie. By 2009, NEVER BACK DOWN director Jeff Wadlow had signed on,with Cam Gigandet starring. But of course it never got off the ground.

In 2017 Iliff wrote and directed a short called Trump’s America, about “a wise-cracking pandhandler.” A press-kit-style IMDb summary calls it “a provocative tale that examines the lawless Wild West of L.A.’s growing homeless epidemic, and present characters on many sides of the issue, where nobody is necessarily a villain, and all of us need to participate in finding a solution.”

In 2020, Iliff’s idea of a “solution” was to conspire on Nextdoor and GoFundMe to hire a crew to clear out a homeless encampment from a tunnel in his West L.A. neighborhood and replace it with 66 boulders. Disgusted volunteers removed some of the boulders and the outcry was severe enough that the city council forced Iliff to pay for the removal of the boulders.

So anyway I am not a fan.

But Bigelow has remained respectable. Her 1995 followup STRANGE DAYS reunited her with co-writer and producer Cameron, by then her ex-husband. She did some episodes of Homicide: Life On the Street and the okay mystery drama THE WEIGHT OF WATER (2000) before she kinda got into director’s jail because her (very good) submarine movie K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER was the most expensive movie ever directed by a woman at the time, but did not do well.

But she famously returned in 2008 with the war drama THE HURT LOCKER, which won best picture (over Cameron’s AVATAR) and made her the first woman to win the best director Oscar. Though this was her first Very Respectable movie, I feel it plays off of many action movie tropes and utilizes her chops in suspenseful bomb defusing sequences. The search-for-bin-Laden dramatization ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) is even better, and I also respect the racist-cop-atrocity true story DETROIT (2017). But if she was ever interested I sure would love to see Bigelow try to deal with some of these themes in the context of fun genre movies like she used to in the POINT BREAK days.

Signs that ’91 is not that long after the ‘80s: The end credits song, “Nobody Rides for Free” by Ratt. (Otherwise the soundtrack ranges from Concrete Blonde to Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” to Ice-T’s “Original Gangster.”)

Cultural references: Pappas talks about how funny a Calvin & Hobbes strip is.

In jokes about other Swayze classics: When Johnny is telling Pappas about following Bodhi around all day he says he had lunch at “Patrick’s Roadhouse.” Too bad they didn’t thrown in any references to STEEL DAWN or UNCOMMON VALOR.

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31 Responses to “Point Break (30th anniversary revisit)”

  1. I’m actually pretty surprised to see it made that much. NO ONE I knew saw it in the theater (including me, who saw basically everything back then), and mostly it seemed like the subject of mockery based on the trailers due to Keanu’s stilted line delivery and Swayze’s Don Johnson-esque frost job, and the fact the trailers seemed to highlight his corniest lines.

    BUT, once released on home video, word of it’s legitimacy spread fast and hard. I remember the comically mousey lady who worked at the video store I rented it at assuring me it was “awesome,” her eyes absolutely lighting up as she said this, like she could hardly contain her excitement (this same lady later asked “Really!?!?” when I asked if I could get dibs on the Naked Lunch poster when they took it down. She was very surprised/impressed)

  2. Dikembe Mutombo

    July 12th, 2021 at 9:54 am

    Vern, I’m gratified to hear you voice some notes of appreciation for Swayze’s calm and affable form of sincerity. Other actors would’ve made Bodhi too intense in order to cope with the silliness of his sayings, or they would’ve found a way to send him up a little and undercut him. Swayze embraced Bodhi like few actors would have – a part he was born to play.

    Also good to see acknowledgement of the intensity of the high octane action scenes. The staging, cinematography, stunts are all VERY high level for a western movie in 1991. It holds up very well as an action experience.

    The script’s dialogue has an unmistakable Cameron sheen. Regardless of what the history books say there’s no way you won’t convince me he didn’t write John McGinley’s dialogue. The script deserves real credit for how fun the procedural details are. Same year as Silence of the Lambs, not that far behind in terms of the quality of procedural detail.

    Anyway thanks Vern, one of my favorite movies – I’ve seen it half a dozen times easy.

  3. Full disclosure: I grew up in a surfing community but didn’t/don’t surf. A movie that questions the assumptions of male surfer cool was always gonna be a hit with me. I have a lot of respect for people who dedicate themselves to a physical prowess, but my experience of surfers growing up was that they are full of it, and themselves. That said, coming after NEAR DARK and BLUE STEEL, and immediately before STRANGE DAYS, for a long time this felt like a downward blip in the Bigelowgraphy. But it’s grown on me over the years, possibly as I’ve come to realise she’s probably not coming back to this kind of genre brilliance, and with the knowledge that there are now a finite number of great Swayze performances and this is one of them.

    It’s worth pointing out that casting Busey as Pappas was both a nod to, and poke at, John Milius’s BIG WEDNESDAY.

  4. One quick bit of errata: Patrick’s Roadhouse is an actual restaurant on PCH in Santa Monica that’s been around since the early ’70s. Patrick refers to the name of the founder’s son, Patrick Fischler (GHOST WORLD, TWIN PEAKS).

  5. As a kid, I loved this movie but felt let down by the ending. Not Johnny letting Bodi go (that was appropriate to the story) but the fact that there isn’t really an action climax. Back then, I was pretty sure that if a movie didn’t end with a warehouse blowing up and a parking lot full of ambulances and firetrucks, it was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the filmmakers. I don’t care about that now, eight or nine viewings later, though I will say that I’ve never seen a Bigelow movie whose ending wasn’t much, much worse than its beginning and middle (except maybe BLUE STEEL, whose every moment is equally as brain-damaged as every other moment), so I don’t think Lil Majestyk was entirely off-base in finding the ending a little underwhelming. But now it’s not even really a movie I watch for the action, as influential as that foot chase was. It’s for the lines (“Utah! Get me two!”), the characters, the vibe, the overwhelming movieness of it all. By modern standards it’s practically a drama. But it’s a drama where a Red Hot Chili Pepper blows his own foot off out of nowhere so it’s probably still underrated in the grand scheme of things. It’s easily and I mean EASILY Bigelow’s all-around best work.

  6. Oh, and Borg: I have long suspected that surfers are full of shit, but I’ve lived on the East Coast my whole life so what the fuck do I know? Thank you for proving me right.

  7. I love this movie. Bigelow has an unbelievable eye, if erratic taste in subject matter.

    Something that I find strangely fascinating is that it’s the middle film in a Patrick Swayze homoerotic trilogy — it comes in between 1989’s ROAD HOUSE (in which a dude puts Swayze in a headlock and tells him “I used to fuck guys like you in prison”) and 1995’s TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (in which Swayze plays a drag queen). It makes me wonder if he made each of those movies in order to deliberately play with his established image. Sort of the way Tom Cruise did two movies back to back — VANILLA SKY and MINORITY REPORT — where his face gets fucked up somehow.

  8. My sister feels more strongly about surfers than even I do, and probably with good reason. She had a summer job working as a waitress at a beachfront cafe. In those pre-internet, pre-cell phone times surfers would phone in to the cafe for surf updates. It was a point of principle with her to give false reports, saying the surf was lousy when it was great and vice versa.

  9. I’d forgotten Tom Sizemore is in this. Does he get killed? Bigelow seemed to like killing him, but didn’t everyone! I assumed his career was over, but a quick look at IMDB to confirm he’s uncredited in this also suggests that he’s actually still in everything. Strange.

  10. I never saw it at the cinema but my cousin dug it so much he bought the bootleg and I kid you not I watched that thing every weekend until the movie finally hit home video. I just came home a bit buzzed after FAST 9 but jumped straight to this review instead of that one. After all there wouldn’t even be an F9 without this.

    The footchase scene is so masterful but I also never realized till recently how much of Bodhi’s spiritual philosophy I adopted in life. I honestly think back on Swayze being one of my favorite movie stars because he never hesitated to really put a part of himself into any role no matter the genre. This is why I unironically like DIRTY DANCING, GHOST, NEXT OF KIN, ROAD HOUSE and THE OUTSIDERS. There is just an earnestness there that a lot of movie stars didn’t really have. His characters felt real authentic to him and I think Keanu as he grew kind of adapted a similar demeanor.

    Of course we all remember the great direction, set pieces and acting performances but one of the things I really loved most about this film is the score. I don’t think Mark Isham did much in movies after this but you can definitely tell he didn’t just have great jazz sensibilities in terms of being melodically extemporaneous but his command over synthesizers is beyond admirable. So many great compositions on here that were synth based. Gave it a very “welcome to the 90s” vibe back then that has still aged tremendously well to this day. This movie really was a lightning in a bottle scenario but am I glad we all got to see it. With NEAR DARK, BLUE STEEL this one and then STRANGE DAYS Bigelow was without a doubt one of my favorite directors from the late 80s to late 90s.

    It was so refreshing to see a woman hang so easily with the big boys back then and sometimes even surpass them. It kinda kills me that she may never go back to those genre roots ever again. I get it she’s in the Oscar tier now but not many understood action suspense as well as she did as well as finding the humanity in any character including many who perform all sorts of loathsome actions. It’s a shame to not see her go one more round.

  11. Awhile ago I watched a really good documentary about Swayze called I Am Patrick Swayze. It was on the Paramount network and I wonder if you can get it on the Paramount streaming service now. Anyway, they talked about how he played every character with a sincere intensity which Vern touches on here. One of my favorite parts of the doc was when Rob Lowe was talking about how Swayze did his own stunts in this movie and that as one outsider talking about another he could attest that Tom Cruise never forgets that Patrick Swayze did it first.

  12. Bodhi is such a terrific villain. He’s charming, he’s likable, he’s daring… and every time he has a chance to put anyone ahead of himself, he proves to be a moral coward of the highest order. He’s smart enough and empathetic enough to know that he’s in the wrong when he ignores his crew’s pleas to cut and run when things go sideways, to know that putting Tyler’s life in the hands of someone he knows to be a violent asshole is a horrific thing to do. And Swayze’s eyes make it clear that not only should he know, he DOES know. If he could step up and take the damn L for once, admit that he pushed too far, the Ex-Presidents and a whole lot of other folks would still be alive. Tyler and Johnny wouldn’t be traumatized and Johnny wouldn’t have had his heart broken so thoroughly.

    But Bodhi doesn’t have that sort of courage. Without fail, he runs from reality. He plunges himself into a fantasy where all the pressure is juice and everything will work out somehow, where he isn’t betraying his crew by overriding their very reasonable concerns about getting killed, where being vicious to Tyler and Johnny is proof that he loves them because he didn’t want for the viciousness to be necessary. Every time he comes to a point where he could make the right call and think about someone other than himself, he chickens out.

    Bodhi’s demise is as sad and small as it is romantic and epic. During his last conversation with Johnny, he comes close—closer than anywhere else in the film—to accepting responsibility for his actions. But instead, he runs away again, this time literally. At least by my read, Johnny lets Bodhi surf to his death as much because he’s disappointed in/disgusted by/pities him as because he still loves him.

    It’s such a great piece of character work, and Swayze performs it beautifully.

  13. Lori Petty, interestingly, also filmed two days on Demolition Man before they fired her and replaced her with Sandra Bullock.

    You’ve spoken to me and I of course saw the remake for my job and I enjoyed it. Not even comparing it to the Bigelow but they never made a legit sequel so why not?

  14. Whwn I saw this at the cinema in ’91 I didn’t get THAT big a kick out of it. But later that year I met a woman who LOVED it, and it has sort of stayed with us ever since. I won’t say that it’s OUR movie (the first one we saw together was STATE OF GRACE, wih music by both The Pogues and U2, so duh…). And thanks to HOT FUZZ our kids became aware of it too.

  15. Point Break to me remains a compendium of amazingly shot, paced and edited action sequences (foot chase, house shoot out, Utah’s first sky dive) but stitched together as a movie, remains, in the immortal words of John C McGinley, young, dumb and full of cum. The exquisite stupidity behind certain character decisions and motivations (Utah’s slow uptake on the identity of the Ex-Presidents, an off-duty cop’s decision to put civilian lives at risk, Bodhi’s decision to go for the vault) can easily be forgotten in the face of such expert film-making chops (said it before, will say it again, Bigelow can stand toe to toe with her ex-husband as one of the best action movie directors working today) and a trio of bravura performances holding it up: Reeves’ puppy dog earnestness, Swayze’s Zen master calm and a gloriously unhinged Busey (before you realized he was playing himself).

    It’s a product of perfect alchemy. Never bettered*

    * Those about to pull THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS outta their ass…don’t.

  16. “But Tyler’s disdain for and then attraction to Johnny is palpable, and the physical consummation of their relationship has a sensuality it’s hard to picture being present if the movie were directed by a dude”

    Excellent observation! But in the very next scene, she has a hot babe in a bikini that barely rates minimum coverage opening the door to Busey and in the shoot out, Reeves has his ass kicked by a buck naked blonde (Julie Michaels, who along with Swayze complete the ROAD HOUSE link). Which is stuff you practically expect from a male director.

    It’s these curve-balls that make Bigelow an endlessly fascinating director.

  17. Maggie, I saw the Swayze doc. Heartfelt and poignant. Interesting bit about his mother

  18. They should have made a sequel where Johnny Utah is a surfing private detective, that takes a case now and then to pay for bills. Kinda like a 90’s Ethan Reckless (if you haven’t read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s new graphic novels series about a private eye in the ’80s called Ethan Reckless you should, two books out so far, and a third will come out in October (I think). Great stuff.)

    Point Break is a classic, and I’m sad Kathryn Bigelow never made anything like it (Strange Days was the closes). As much as I love her true story dramas, I still wish she would do more classic action films and thrillers. Surprisingly most of the female-directed action films today are Marvel and DC films (even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki are directed by female directors). . Who would have thought that? Too bad Lexi Alexander is only doing tv, I thought she could be a new Bigelow, but she might have rocked the boat too much?

  19. “Back then, I was pretty sure that if a movie didn’t end with a warehouse blowing up and a parking lot full of ambulances and firetrucks, it was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the filmmakers.”

    Totally agree with this Majestyk sentiment! Couldn’t wait to see this in theaters. Between this and T2 my July was a neon blue sheen that stayed with me. The cool of this movie, and Swayze, stuck with me long after I left the theater, but there was something a little off in my mind and not until 30 years later do i realize why! Cheers mate!

    Yes, time, subsequent viewings and Hot Fuzz appreciation have made me realize how terrific it all.is together. (I already take the skin off my chicken). Would love for Bigelow to make another lean and mean action flick like this.

    The night Swayze died I did a double bill of Road House and this, which is a terrific 1-2 punch of awesome, but you can see what hes trying to do.

    Now I’m gonna watch this one. Thank you Vern

  20. Oh, and I did see the remake.

    It’s blander than oatmeal with 2 leads that are charisma vacuums, but it is shot so gorgeously I almost don’t mind.


  21. I thought the remake was OK. There was definitely a time when I would have probably been annoyed by its very existence, but either I grew out of that, or I accepted a POINT BREAK remake written by the never-great-but-always-kinda-interesting EQUILIBRIUM* guy was about as interesting a proposition as mainstream Hollywood was gonna offer me in 2016.

    Lori Petty had a guest role on GOTHAM I thought played with her POINT BREAK\TANK GIRL lineage very well.

    *Just saw\was reminded that he co-wrote the 2012 TOTAL RECALL; that stretches the “always” part of my “kinda interesting” statement close to breaking point.

  22. The remake was one of those movies that is perfectly painless in the moment but not a single scene or incident sticks with you for even a minute afterward. I remember the whole thing looking like a tech demo for an HD drone that they’d show on the TVs at Best Buy, and the leads being so unmemorable that my brain literally cannot conjure up an image of them so it just replaces them with Gerard Butler and the guy who plays Jon Snow. And that’s it. Other than that it’s, um, well, it’s a movie, that’s for sure. I’m like 98% convinced that it exists.

  23. I admit, I’m not really among the POINT BREAK following, but I do acknowledge that this could’ve been a huge disaster with a lesser team behind and in front of the camera. This is one of those things that are tonally pretty difficult to get right, but everybody here is so comitted, I can see why it caught on like it did.

  24. I miss Swayze. Recently I was listening to Rob Lowe’s “Literally!” podcast, and he had David Spade on, who was dishing on SNL hosts. He talked about the ones who were lazy divas, and those who rolled up their sleeves and got really into it. He mentioned Swayze as a host who got way into it, who worked the brutally long days with everyone else just like a full cast member. That sounds right.

  25. grimgrinningchris

    July 15th, 2021 at 6:39 am

    I had a nice conversation with Petty at the hotel bar and bought her a beer (well, an ODouls cuz she’s on the wagon)… mostly about Orange Is The New Black (my favorite role of hers).

  26. Sizemore’s character lives on. His character has a great scene in the aftermath of that shootout at Warchild’s place (which Vern hits the nail on the head about how great and underappreciated an action scene it is) where he bitches to Utah and Pappas about the drug angle, and how he had to be away from his family and wearing the stupid wig (undoubtedly a premonition to his role in STRANGE DAYS).

    Couple of my own notes about that shootout. I have never looked a lawnmower blade the same way again. Anthony Keidis does a wonderful scream when his foot is shot off and does an otherwise good job in a small role as a minor heavy (his dad plays the guy trying to sell Mel Gibson coke in the first LETHAL WEAPON). I also couldn’t help but notice the leather sex swing in one of the bedrooms. Kinky.

    Getting back to Sizemore tangentially, I can’t help but recognize this being a kind of precursor to HEAT. In a few key scenes of that film you are made very aware of the Pacific Ocean. It’s more obvious here because of the surfing angle, but this is noticeably the kind of police story that doesn’t take place in your typical concrete jungles. For lack of a better word there is an earthiness to it all, and I think some of it resonated later in what Mann did trying to represent his vision of Los Angeles.

  27. Vern, have you read the Ken Nunn novel Tapping the Source? It supposedly inspired PB but it isn’t very similar. It’s very bleak and hard boiled stuff. It kinda reminded me of Cutter and Bone, which the movie Cutter’s Way is based on. Anyways, it’s decent and worth reading for the PB completist.

  28. CUTTER AND BONE is great, so any book that draws comparisons to it is worth a look. Thanks, Matt.

  29. Matt, I’m pretty sure a friend loaned that to me and I still have it. I will dig it up.

  30. Majestyk, unfortunately it isn’t as well written as Cutter and Bone, but it did have a similar hopeless quality and it too revolves around a woman’s disappearance and probable murder. It also has a good chunk that takes place in Santa Barbara and a principal character is a burnt out ‘Nam vet. It does have the vibe though… I would say that Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, adapted into the Nolte starring Who Will Stop the Rain is another likely source of inspiration for Tapping the Source vibe-wise. Approach with lowered expectations, you may well be pleasantly surprised, haha.

  31. This review and my wife’s comments about the film convinced me to finally watch it for the first time. I’d avoided it in the 90s because I was something of a–as a colleague once put it–“fucking movie snob” back then. Vern, you played a big part in reopening my mind to less snobby films, so thanks for that!

    Although I was enjoying the performances (especially McGinley and Busey) and the camerawork, I didn’t find myself fully absorbed in the story of POINT BREAK at first. But by the last third of the film, I couldn’t look away! Swayze was fantastic in that role, and seeing the actors skydiving for real was totally thrilling. I see now why this is regarded as an action classic. Glad I finally caught up to this one.

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