Point Break (1991)

The 1990s were hailed as one of the revival decades of cinema.  Not only was Hollywood putting out some films that were to become new classics, but independent and foreign films seemed to be reaching new heights as well.  In some ways it was like the early 1970s again. 

That includes the fact that films like Point Break were made. 

And it makes sense that it was.  At a time when practically any idea is making a load of money it is no surprise that someone pitched this and a producer decided to run with it.  And, despite everything that says this movie should have been an abject failure, things worked out to where it has endured and become more popular over time. 

A good amount of the credit goes to director Kathryn Bigelow, known these days for such movies as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.  At the time she had been noticed for her modern vampire tale Near Dark and a crime drama featuring Jamie Lee Curtis called Blue Steel.  Her combination of beautiful surfing shots, realistic handheld chase scenes and one hell of a raid on a drug house go a long way to raising this above its silly plot.

Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is a former college football player who, due to an injury, gave up the game and became an FBI agent.  Assigned to an office in Los Angeles, he is soon paired with grizzled veteran Pappas (Gary Busey) who is on the outs with his superiors because of his belief that a series of bank robberies committed by a gang nicknamed the Ex-Presidents (due to their penchant for wearing masks or former presidents during their robberies) are surfers that are funding their "endless summer" by hitting banks.  Utah is willing to take it into consideration and, to go under cover, decides to learn how to surf so he can find out if it has any merit.

After almost drowning during his first attempt, Utah is saved by Tyler (Lori Petty), who agrees to teach him how to surf.  Through her he meets Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), with whom he quickly develops a friendship, particularly after Bodhi steps when a group of surfers gangs up on Utah.  Further investigation leads Utah to believe that the gang may be the bankrobbers, leading to a disastrous raid on their house and a falling out with his superiors.

Predicting where the Ex-Presidents will strike next, Utah and Pappas stake out a downtown bank which the real robbers hit.  After a foot pursuit both Bodhi and Utah recognize each other, leading Bodhi to kidnap Tyler and force Utah into one last bank robbery with him - without Utah wearing a mask, so that he is caught on surveillance video.  With time running out for Tyler, Utah must rescue her, bring Bodhi to justice and clear his name.

Keep in mind that at the time the biggest star here was Gary Busey.  Patrick Swayze's biggest claim to fame at this point was Dirty Dancing, and Keanu Reeves was known for Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Although Swayze's first couple of films were low-budget action movies, Reeves was an unproven property outside of comedy.  Unfortunately, his laughable inability to act is one of the things that got Point Break noticed.  Swayze is great, Petty is wonderful and Busey is Busey.  Among all those, Keanu Reeves trying to emote and not sound like he's in a school play really stands out.

After years of enduring Reeves's ineptness, I believe it is more of what lends some charm to this film and what will make the remake nothing but a pale, lifeless imitation.  In a movie with a strange plot, a weird mix of actors and a director going above and beyond what the source material deserves, this is just one more element that makes the movie click. 

And, despite everything that should be wrong, Point Break is a solid action film, fun throughout and deserving of its cult reputation.  I am glad no sequels were made since I doubt things would have played out the same way twice.  As it stands, it's a reminder of how vibrant the 1990s were when it came to movies, as much as the remake will remind us how far things have fallen.

Point Break (1991)
Time: 122 minutes
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Director: Kathryn Bigelow


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