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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Crushed Film Festival presents: Point Break

Submitted by on April 14, 2010 – 5:17 PM29 Comments

The Movie: Point Break

The Crush Object: Keanu Reeves

The Story: Newly minted Special Agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) goes undercover with a group of L.A. surfers whose Zentificating ringleader, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), is also the mastermind behind a series of bank robberies. Taught to surf — and love — by Tyler (Lori Petty), Utah must then confront his role in the system, or the price of conformity and vengeance, or why Tom Sizemore is wearing eyeliner, or something. It should pop up on cable any minute now, so you can watch it yourselves and draw your own lofty conclusions.

Or not. Point Break's script doesn't bother with them, or with subtle character beats. Nor should it: the presence of James Le Gros aside, to say that this isn't the cast with which to explore nuance is an understatement of grand proportions, and anyway, the movie doesn't require it. It's no doubt the fashion to re-examine Point Break with a more favorable academic eye now that director Kathryn Bigelow has won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but I've always maintained that PB is a better movie than it's been given credit for. It feels exactly the right length; everything set up is paid off; the action sequences still seem fresh and suspenseful. Extra credit for the shoot-out in the rival surfer gang's crash pad — you know full well Keanu's face isn't going into those lawnmower blades, but you still hold your breath. The movie does what it means to do.

It's aged rather well, too. (And what a GBC time capsule! It's a trip to see Sizemore as an uncredited DEA agent, double-fisting kilos of crystal meth, during a season of Sober House — not to mention Gary Busey's original face.) Several lines of dialogue land like wet toilet paper — Bodhi's "They only live to get radical," LBJ's "We're stylin'!" — but my recollection is that they didn't work contemporaneously either. At one point, I did wonder why Utah isn't more worried that Bodhi recognizes him from his football days at Ohio State; shouldn't that compromise his cover? Then I remembered: no Google yet. Overall, though, it holds up pretty well.

And the acting is better than I'd remembered. Not good, but better. Swayze is relatively restrained, although it's possible I was just happy to see him looking so young and energetic; Busey is somewhat crazed, but that's in the script; Keanu is…Keanu. He has a few line deliveries so stilted that they belong in the circus, but PB came out before film culture had figured out how to write around him effectively, so what can you do.

Lori Petty…is a problem, but looking at both Tyler and the Kit role in A League of Their Own, I think the issue is that she tends to get cast as whiny, pissy tomboy try-hards, characters who would irritate me no matter who played them…especially if it's in the script that she confronts him at gunpoint while wearing his button-down shirt, unbuttoned, with nothing on underneath. I don't care what Utah lied to me about; I'm taking a few seconds to put on some underpants.

The Backstory: Keanu. That the movie opens with him in a tight black tee and jeans, getting rained on, justifies the film completely.

The Embarrassment Level: My own shame level isn't very high here. Keanu is a legit fox to this day, and the movie holds up as an action pic. Let's call it a 1. Lee Tergesen, on the other hand, should feel the flames of an 8 crawling up his face. I know a guy's gotta eat, and sometimes a guy's gotta have black dreadlocks to do that, but he could have de-hammed the scene where he's spitting beer into the campfire.

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  • Heidi says:

    I admit to multiple theatrical viewings of this the summer it was released. Then, I was a massively (Keanu Reeves) lovestruck 20-year old. Now, still adoring him, and missing Patrick Swayze, I will stop what I'm doing and watch bits and pieces of it when it rotates on Encore.

    I also thought it was an awesome rampage from Kathryn Bigelow, who was shooting this in Hawaii while James Cameron was stepping out on her during the filming of T2 (if gossip at the time was correct) back in LA.

  • Jen S. says:

    Here's what I wrote about Point Break over at Scanners:

    "It's so funny, but the moment that yanked me out of a film most recently was, of all things, Point Break.

    Yes, the film is absurd to the point that it might well be taking place in a parallel universe. I'm fine with that. I happily agree to believe that Keanu Reeves is a twenty five year old ex-football star FBI agent named Johnny Utah and his first assignment is to infiltrate a gang of beach bum surfer adrenaline junkies who have robbed thirty banks in three years without being caught and are lead by a Zenlike surfer god whose only dream is to ride the world's biggest wave when he's not jumping out of airplanes. No problem with any of that, and the movie takes the absurdity seriously, which is the only way to make it watchable.

    So we're laughing and watching, until the third act, when Keanu and Gary Busey are staking out the bank they think the robbers will hit before clearing out for the winter. Gary decides he's hungry and sends Keanu to the sandwich stand around the corner. K dutifully heads out.

    While Keanu is ordering the food and paying, the robbers pull up behind him on the street, pour out of their car and run into the bank. It's supposed to be funny, but I wouldn't know because at that very moment, Keanu is told his total for TWO MEATBALL SANDWICHES, ONE TUNA SANDWICH, AND TWO DRINKS:

    "Seven sixty-five."

    What the hell?? Did this place teleport in from the Great Depression? Since when do three sandwiches and two drinks cost under twenty dollars? Yes, the movie was made in 1991 but prices were not that low, and haven't been since 1937. Totally threw me and everyone in the room (all of whom work in food service) for a loop, and the next several minutes were given over to speculation as to what the food must be made of, or if it was a front for a beachside Mafia operation. So, future directors, go over your scripts with a fine tooth comb, because God is really in the details."

    And I stand by it, by God! Bigelow, bless her eyes, knows the difference between stupid and ridiculous, that the latter can achieve sublime heights and the former only cause migranes. But still, next time, pull aside the intern who was working at a deli before he/she got this gig and have them review any purchasing of food.

  • Todd K says:

    I agree right down the line. I've never felt very guilty about liking this. It's satisfying at the level of just being fun to watch, and it has all those dazzling setpieces that anyone interested in the techniques of action filmmaking should see: the raid scene you mentioned, the skydiving sequence, the final Utah/Bodhi confrontation, and perhaps the best of them, that lengthy chase on foot (which would be memorable even without the novelty of the attack-dog toss).

    It's harder to make a case for her (Bigelow's) immediately previous film, Blue Steel, because that screenplay is a real dog. But the acting there is stronger than that in Point Break, and the direction is impressive in the same ways.

    The site looks great, by the way.

  • Soylent Green says:

    I've always thought this was a fun action flick, but I really loved Strange Days, too (I even adored Sizemore after that one, shudder). This has the bonus of the unconvincing scenes in Australia at the end, with its exaggerated accents and left-hand drive cars.

  • katie says:

    I have long loved Point Break, beginning in summer of 1998 when I worked at a summer camp with one tv, no cable, one vcr and one vhs tape: Point Break.

  • I am an EFF! BEE! EYE! AGENT!

  • Nilda A says:

    I loved PB when I first saw it on videotape back in the olden days of my BlockBuster membership. However, I am confused about the ending. I have distinct memories of Utah letting Bodhi have his final big surf but another memory of Utah arresting Bodhi and denying him his final big surf.

    So which was it? Were there alternate endings or did I imagine another ending because I didn't like the one I did see?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Nilda: Utah arrests Bodhi and cuffs him (part of the thing in that final fight is that they're cuffed together for it), but as the local police are piling out of vans and choppers, Bodhi begs for a chance to surf these historic waves, saying it's not like he can really escape. Because Utah Gets The Call Of The Sea (…I guess?), he uncuffs Bodhi. The police are like, hey fucknuts, you're letting him get away, and the chief says they'll catch Bodhi when he comes back to shore. Utah stalks off and mutters, "He's not coming back."

    Shot of Bodhi getting sacked by a 10-foot wave. I think the implication is that Utah lets him go because he knows it's important to Bodhi — but also because he knows boyfriend is fish food with waves that big. Suicide by wave cop.

  • lsn says:

    @Soylent Green: It's even funnier when you live close to Bells Beach and they get to that scene. I have no idea where they actually filmed it, but it's so far off being Bells Beach it's hysterical. Everything, from the police uniforms and cars to the beach itself is just wrong. And the day we get waves that big off Bass Strait is the day Tasmania gets out of the bloody way.

  • Kelly U says:

    I loved that it had Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in it in a small role (Maybe as one of the gang members? It's been a while). His character shoots himself in the foot at one point and I just couldn't stop laughing.

  • Julie says:

    I agree on all points. It's not a "great" film, but it's a damn lot of fun. As far as big, loud action movies go, you could do a lot worse.

    PS: My dad is one of those academic types who only watches obscure, black and white, French films from the '40s or earlier–and he friggin' LOVES "Point Break." Any time it comes on cable, he's not going anywhere. Cracks me up every time.

  • Sandman says:

    @lsn: I'm not sure if it's the effect you wanted, but now I have this image in my head of a bunch of Aussie surfer types, pissed off and yelling "Dammit, Tasmania! What'd we JUST SAY?"

  • Margaret in CO says:

    GORGEOUS! LOVE the new site! (So much work! I'll bet it was easier moving house than moving the Nation. Thanks.)

    I feel the same way about Lori Petty…poor kid got typecast as "scrappy" and can't seem to escape. It makes me squirm in my seat sometimes. And yeah, underpants, jeez.

  • Randi says:

    I once had to proofread a blurb in a movie magazine that basically said, “Due to a reporting error in our previous issue, we claimed that Steven Soderbergh’s favorite movie was Point Break. This should have read Point Blank. We regret the error.” Soderbergh must have had a good chuckle about that one. I believe the mag instituted an actual fact-checking process after that.

  • Georgia says:

    I have yet to see this adaptation of Point Break, but really want to:

    From what I understand, it's Point Break as a stage play, with a random audience member picked to play the role of Utah, and reading off cue cards the whole time.

  • Georgia says:

    Or I guess the better link would be:

  • Kizz says:

    And yet that beer spitting scene may well have been a pivotal stepping stone to his getting the gig on Oz. Is it hard to watch? Yes. Do I still love him? Why yes again.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Georgia: My friend's cousin is playing Bodhi in a production of it. Love.

  • Cora says:

    @ Kelly U: I am so with you. I squee! every time Anthony Kiedis first shows up being all "Dat. would be. a waste. of time." with the rap hands; all the way through to his last scene: "DON'T TOUCH IT!!! DON'T TOUCH IT!!!" And of course there's the whole problem that the only female character has to be undressed all the time (your basic Hollywood action movie misogyny; nothing new here). But, ohhhhh, Anthony.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    And of course there's the whole problem that the only female character has to be undressed all the time

    Seeeeriously. How many shots of that woman's thongkini did we need? Because we got many.

    And in that same vein, could the betties in shoot-outs scream less, and flee more? Screeching is great and all, but your time might be better spent getting the F out of the way of the hail of gunfire instead of Edvard Munching in the middle of the room. Stop, drop, and crawl. SILENTLY.

  • Clairezilla says:

    OMG – love, love, love this movie. Unabashedly, without irony, LOVE.

    I can't tell you how many times I've watched it, but it's been in my movie rotation since I first got it on VHS in 1994. Also love that it got a shout-out in "Hot Fuzz" from Nick Frost's character.

    And great new look – love the new site design!

  • Clairezilla says:

    And what, no love for John C. McGinley as the FBI boss? He was kinda hot, too.

  • Annie says:

    God, I LOVE Point Break. I never saw it until last year sometime, so it's not even nostalgia. I just love to see a well-constructed movie that's fully aware and unashamed of its goofiness level. It makes a great double feature with Road House too. BTW, this is the second time this morning I've had an opportunity to point that out, so what's going on that everyone has Point Break and Road House on the brain?

  • Sara says:

    I love love love that you posted the photo w John McGinley in the background, all "doot-doot-doo. . . here I am in a long string of bit parts."

  • Heather says:

    I spent an entire summer watching this movie, then rewinding, rewatching, rinse repeat, when I was 14. I never got sick of it, I never will, and I refuse to feel guilty about loving it.

    Also, to anyone who lives in or near a city that has a production of Point Break Live going on: GO. Get a group of people together and go as soon as you possibly can. It is easily the funniest show I have ever seen, even after repeat viewings. And the audience is generally made up completely of people who love Point Break just as much as you do!

    (If you can, get one of your friends to try out for the Keanu part. The auditions are funny enough, but if your pal is up there playing Keanu it just makes things ten times funnier, although that seems impossible.)

  • alannaofdoom says:

    "Zentificating" = genius. I will be using this at the first opportunity.

  • Michael says:

    Is the sure way to land Keanu Reeves for your film to have his character be a former Ohio State football player? Wasn't Ohio State also his alma mater in The Replacements?

  • Todd K says:

    Margaret in CO commented: "I feel the same way about Lori Petty…poor kid got typecast as "scrappy" and can't seem to escape."

    If Point Break were made today, Michelle Rodriguez would get that role. A moody, mouthy tomboy love interest who surfs…it's almost as if a Typecasting for Windows program spat out an MR part 15 years too early.

  • suz says:

    Ah, Point Break. Last summer, while travelling with my girl through Portugal, an unexpected conversation with a Portuguese surfer on the bus led to us changing our entire road trip. The ice-breaker? He'd heard our Aussie accents and said his dream was to make it to Bells beach for the 50 Year Storm. After that, how could we resist his suggestion to ditch Spain and hit the West Portugal surf festivals?!
    Oh, and yes, it was awesome.

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