REVIEW: Point Break [1991]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 122 minutes | Release Date: July 12th, 1991 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
Writer(s): W. Peter Iliff / W. Peter Iliff & Rick King (story)

“Sir, I take the skin off chicken”


I’m thankful I always saw Point Break as stupid fun watching it years ago because there’s no way I could ever take it seriously today. But rather than have the decade-spanning The Fast and the Furious rip-off saga and hilarious spoofing in Hot Fuzz among others ruin it by pointing out its well-documented flaws, they’ve instead enhanced my enjoyment. Any filter that may have allowed me to acknowledge it as a “90s classic” like some still do was removed ten years ago so I now can watch in search of the original moments those aforementioned homages mocked. It isn’t so-bad-it’s-good; it’s just nostalgic bro-love to the nth degree. Kudos to Kathryn Bigelow and company for keeping us entertained, though, since many 90s action flicks can’t even say that.

Written by W. Peter Iliff from a story he and Rick King manufactured, there’s some cool stuff going on below the cheese. Unfortunately the most interesting things are glossed over like why the “Ex-Presidents” are doing what they’re doing. Here’s a group of surfers wearing rubber masks who rob banks at will because they don’t get greedy. They take what’s in the cash drawer and ignore the vault to get in and out in 90-seconds. They do this a few times each summer and disappear until the next year. Why? Because they are adrenaline junkies who want to shock the system and wake up those sleepwalking within it. Does the film expound on these ideas beyond trying to make them sympathetic antiheroes? No. This is its greatest flaw.

By delving into this notion Point Break might have been better than over-the-top action wherein the FBI agent (Keanu Reeves‘ Johnny Utah) tasked to stop the thieves must become complicit to the crime. I like the original Fast and the Furious less than I do its predecessor, but at least they made it so Brian O’Connor was won over by Dom Toretto. He understood his mission and willingly signed up. This almost happens with Utah except for the fact “Ex-Presidents” mastermind Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) decides to strong-arm him before it can. As soon as this occurs the movie devolves into gibberish as the body count increases exponentially through three distinct endings that become more contrived and melodramatic as they replace the previous. Bodhi’s messiah proves a selfish sociopath.

It’s funny because I’ve had Fast and the Furious shoved down my throat so long that I remembered Utah willingly joining Bodhi. Would it have been the right thing to do? No. But at least we could commend him for following his heart. The ways his and Bodhi’s paths actually continue make him into a bad agent. It’s not love or adoration or friendship forcing him to shoot his gun in the air whilst screaming, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.” It’s his inability to do his job. So not only does Bodhi reveal himself as a false prophet, but Utah shows he’s hardly a hero himself. I felt one thing at the conclusion: sadness that Agent Pappas (Gary Busey) and Johnny’s girlfriend Tyler (Lori Petty) had to find themselves in the crosshairs.

The real shame is that the first half is pretty good. I like the backstory of the “Ex-Presidents” and how Pappas has devoted his career to stopping them to no avail. I like John C. McGinley‘s tough-as-nails FBI Director Harp riding his agents and facilitating an air of professional divide so Pappas and his new partner Utah can become jokes of the department. And I like that Utah so invests himself in the surfer lifestyle that he transforms into one of them for real. Bodhi’s crew provides him an entrance to the spiritual side of the waves while idiots like Vincent Klyn‘s Warchild and Anthony Kiedis’ Tone (yes, that Anthony Kiedis) keep the stoner miscreant vibe alive. Surfing simultaneously as Zen catharsis and violently aggressive outlet.

So it’s fun to watch Utah bring his board into FBI headquarters, Bodhi fight for Utah’s honor, and the blossoming romance between Utah and Tyler built on a lie. Reeves and Busey have great chemistry for odd couple laughs and Swayze doubles down on the whole enlightened bit to come off as charming in his grand delusion. A raid of Warchild’s pad has memorable menace and a nude woman knifing an intruder in the back; the bank robberies are hilarious with every “president” doing voices; and the surfing appears a welcome document of the sport at a time when it flourished. Even Utah and Bodhi’s bromance has its positives removed from the soaring score, but making them friends, enemies, friends, enemies, etc. only made me indifferent to both.

When the script wants me to like Utah it redeems Bodhi. When I’m supposed to align with the surfer it has him going against what he stands for to create added violence. But I can’t then go back to Utah because he’s too stupid to realize when he’s burned. The whole thing wreaks of sloppiness on the behalf of trained law enforcement and career criminals who never slipped up before. I’m sorry, but whatever friendship builds between these two “brahs” isn’t enough to make them forget who they are. The resulting embellished plot creates frustration from wasted potential while also letting me laugh at it without remorse. So on a rainy day in need of mindless drivel, Point Break does the job. Beyond that you’re lying to yourself.

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