Summer Movies We Love: Point Break

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Ever fired your gun in the air and yelled, “Aaaaaaah?”

Former college quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is a rookie FBI agent in the 98th percentile of his class at Quantico. On his first assignment, he’s sent to L.A. County – bank robbery capital of the world – to bust the notorious Ex-Presidents. This unstoppable gang of thieves has hit 27 banks in three years, working with speed and surgical precision. Pappas (Gary Busey), Utah’s veteran partner, suspects they’re surfers. Obviously, Utah is going to have to learn how to surf so he can go undercover, get the girl, and bring the bad guys to justice. Whoa.

Why We Love It

Ah, Point Break. Why do I always find myself in the minority whenever I vigorously defend this film as a neglected classic?

Yes, the premise is totally silly. Basically, this film suggests that good police work consists of 5 percent forensics, 5 percent deductive reasoning. 50 percent deception, 50 percent dumb luck and 75 percent sheer manliness. “What the hell?” you’re probably thinking, “That adds up to 185 percent!” Damn straight. 185 percent f-ing awesome, my friend.

See, in order to truly love this film as I do, you’re going to have to shut off those obnoxious higher brain functions that set off all kinds of alarms at the mention of anything that sounds improbable. Improbable like, say, FBI Agent Pappas’ convoluted theory explaining why the Ex-Presidents must obviously be surfers. I won’t bore you hear with his convoluted chain of flimsy evidence and hunches. Basically, his theory boils down to this: These guys are simply to cool to be anything but surfers. And solving the case will require Utah to become cooler than he already is. How’s that for a win-win?

As some have pointed out, Point Break would be virtually remade 10 years later as The Fast and The Furious. Although the latter film would prove far more profitable, F&F is an embarrassingly tepid rehash. Its primary value is to demonstrate, by comparison, why Point Break works so well.

First off, you’ve got a rock-solid cast. Patrick Swayze perfectly embodies Bodhi’s “modern savage” with a philosophical streak. Keanu Reeves, with his ripped physique and stoner drawl, could’ve been born with a surfboard under his arm. (For his mom’s sake, let’s hope he actually wasn’t. Ouch.) Gary Busey, let’s face it, is not nearly as convincing as a mentor as Swayze. But as comic relief, he’s unbeatable. Who else could so convincingly portray a middle-aged guy who seems to possess the mind of an ADHD-addled 13-year-old? And let’s not forget Lori Petty. Successfully cast against type as Keanu’s love interest, Tyler, she’s a far cry from the stereotypical Beach Blonde or Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

The other element that pushes Point Break into the realm of aesthetic transcendence is Kathryn Bigelow’s assured direction. Her action sequences have a visceral physicality lacking in the work of so many other lesser filmmakers. Bodies collide, blood sprays, bones crunch. Bigelow doesn’t merely sublimate all that energy into sparkling eye candy. She makes you feel it in your gut. As even Hot Fuzz’s notoriously uptight Sgt. Angel had to admit, Bigelow delivers a no-holds-barred, adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.

Moment We Fell In Love

As a kid, there was one segment on my VHS copy of Point Break that I definitely wore down to a ragged thread. It’s the chase that takes place about an hour into the film, as the Ex-Presidents are fleeing the scene of the Assured Trust Savings and Loan heist with Agents Utah and Pappas in tow.

It’s six minutes of sheer madness. First, you’ve got what amounts to a high-speed, two-car demolition derby, followed by a game of vehicular cat-and-mouse through a mall parking lot. The Ex-Presidents ditch their getaway car, setting it – and a gas station – on fire. Utah catches up to and tackles Bodhi, who’s wearing white gloves, a black suit and Ronald Reagan mask, and they wrestle in the fire. A spectacle of exhilarating hand-held camera work follows as their foot chase tears through backyards and alleys, over fences and through living rooms, kitchens and glass patio doors, before ending in the L.A. River. A fortuitously timed recurring football injury keeps Utah from following Bodhi any further, and his now-conflicted loyalties keep him from opening fire. In frustration, Utah blows his full 9mm wad into the sky and yells, “Aaaaaaah!”

Well, what would you do?

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to believe Point Break is 20 years old this week. In some ways, sure, it’s dated. It definitely seems like one the last gasps of the golden age of ’80s Hollywood action cinema. But it’s no feeble death rattle. Like Bodhi himself, the film represents the last of a proud but doomed breed: Going down hard, going down fighting.

And as long my gonads continue to pump testosterone, Point Break will continue to be one of the summer movies I love.

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