Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Point Break - 1991

"Point Break" - 1991
Dir. by Kathryn Bigelow - 2 hrs.

Theatrical Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I guess Rob Cohen and Vin Diesel really liked this movie.  Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why "xXx" uses elements of this film and especially "The Fast and the Furious" use the exact same plot.  I'm not saying that "Point Break" is the first film to explore the idea of someone going undercover, but the similarities are striking.  But this film might be more recently familiar because of it's mention in the excellent "Hot Fuzz."  So what I'm saying is that people have seen "Point Break."

"Point Break" is an early starring role for Keanu Reeves, who plays Johnny Utah, a former college football star whose career was derailed by injuries.  He is now an FBI agent, paired with Pappas (Gary Busey), working bank robberies.  There is one crew, called the Ex-Presidents, that have been very successful in this endeavor.  Pappas' pet theory is that the unusually disciplined bank robbers are surfers, who use the loot to spend the rest of the year chasing waves.  As to whether or not that theory holds up, I'll refer you to the film's poster for a clue:

Utah has to go undercover (since he's twenty-five, and Busey is in his fifties, possibly in dog years), and a chance encounter with a woman named Tyler (Lori Petty) provides him an in.  At this point, there have been a few films that use this plot, so I don't think that I'm spoiling anything when I saw that Johnny falls for Tyler, gets too close to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), who is leading the crew he's after, and that he jumps out of a plane without a parachute and survives.  Wait, what?

Yeah, he really does that.  There are a number of pretty spectacular action sequences and natural vistas (since the surfers are adrenaline junkies, they surf and sky-dive almost constantly, which provides ample opportunity to wallow in natural beauty).  There are car chases, bank robberies, house parties, beach football games...  The one thing that the characters have in common is that they're kind of restless, and incapable of sitting still.  And all of that works pretty well for the basis of an action film.

For a lot of the film, the real story is Johnny Utah's search for his own identity.  He's a young man, fresh out of Quantico (which in itself was a back-up plan when his athletic career went up in smoke), and it makes sense that he'd be susceptible to the charms of Tyler, Bodhi, and the ocean.  And as long as the Ex-Presidents stay disciplined, it's all kind of harmless fun.  No one gets hurt, the banks are insured, and the surfers get to live out their Endless Summer.  But when the pressure starts bearing down on Bodhi, he cracks, and things aren't harmless anymore.  It is at this point when the real tension begins to mount for Johnny Utah; he understands the lifestyle and the appeal of it, but when things turn deadly, the Ex-Presidents cannot be allowed to continue on.

A lot of jokes are made about Keanu Reeves' acting chops, but at this point in his career, the role of Johnny Utah was a nice transitional role between his "Bill & Ted's" character and an attempt to do more dramatic work.  All of the quirks of his style are perfectly suited to a movie about surfing (despite him not knowing how to surf before this film was made), and aren't a distraction at all.  Gary Busey is a good supporting actor, and Patrick Swayze knocked his role out of the park.  It's not hard at all to see why other people would want to be around him and follow his lead, which is a prerequisite for this kind of character.  And when his dark side starts to emerge, it's plausible.  I even liked Lori Petty (and yes, I loved "Tank Girl"); she's not a conventional lead actress, but she's easy to warm up to.

Is "Point Break" a good movie?  Well, it's pretty good.  There are things to recommend it (the action, the surfing scenes, a reasonably good plot), and things that work against it (how you feel about Reeves and Lori Petty as actors, the languid pacing at points in the first half of the film), but it's pretty watchable.  I've seen it a few times now, and I'm still not sick of it.  That's probably the best thing that I could say about it.  And plus, Busey's character drifts a 80's sedan around a turn at one point during the big car chase.  What's not to love about that?

3 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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