Kathryn Bigelow has made a name for herself in the last few years. She won the Academy Award for both best picture and director with The Hurt Locker. Zero Dark Thirty appears to be headed down a similar path. But long before she did that, she directed a handful of movies that I bet you didn’t know she was involved with. Those movies also all have respectable ratings from critics and fans alike and one of those movies is Point Break.
Point Break is an action flick that combines bank robberies, xtreme sports, and philosophy. The movie follows rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves). Utah graduated at the top of his class, is a crack shot, and an all-around stud. He is paired up with agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). Pappas is the exact opposite of Utah. He’s a wily old vet who eats like crap, doesn’t exercise one bit, and is thought to be a screw up by his uptight boss. Despite that, he actually seems to be a good guy who cares about doing a good job. The two clash a little bit when first paired up, but it’s very brief. Though they might have different philosophies, the two realize they both share a desire to catch bad guys and that they share a dislike over their asshole of a boss (played by John C. McGinley).
One of the reasons Pappas is ostracized by his colleagues is his unconventional thinking. You see, there is a group of very successful bank robbers who call themselves the “Ex-Presidents”, who have managed to evade authorities for the last couple of years. They disguise themselves as former presidents while pulling off one successful robbery after another. Pappas has this theory that they are surfers, so he convinces Utah to go undercover as an aspiring surfer in an attempt to infiltrate the local surfing community, and hopefully find out who the culprits are in process.
The locals greet Johnny with a variety of reactions. His first foray into the surfing world is through a young woman named Tyler (Lori Petty). Like many others in the surfing community, she initially dismisses him as an outsider, but agrees to teach him after they begin to form a bond.
Through Tyler, she meets Bodhi and his gang. Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) is a free-spirited, charismatic guy who seems to be leader of his group of friends. He is the kind of guy who refuses to work a 9-5 because he feels it’s too restrictive. He is the kind of guy who preaches non-violence, but will kick your ass with some slick karate moves if you mess with him. Bodhi is also a thrill-seeker. Surfing, skydiving, or just about anything else that can get you killed, appeals to him.
The other group Johnny encounters is a territorial and violent group of individuals who will jump you just for surfing on the same beach as them. Fun movie fact: Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis has a small role as one of the gang's members.
Johnny’s task of catching the Ex-Presidents proves to be a difficult one. For starters, there are a few groups that fit the profile. Additionally, he has a genuine desire to catch the criminals, but has really taken a liking to Bodhi’s carefree lifestyle. He's buying into Bodhi's philosophy. His feelings about Tyler are a little complicated as well. First, he can’t tell if she is or isn’t Bodhi’s gal. Additionally, the cover story he used to earn her trust was a lie, and he worries what will happen if the truth comes out. While the movie is definitely an action-packed adrenaline rush, it also has some good drama to it as well. Ok, so maybe it's more melodrama, but that's what we love about it.
That’s really what works with the movie. Yes it has some great action – the kind that can only be found in action flicks from the late 80s and early 90s – some stunning visuals, but it’s got a story I’m invested in too.
Watching Reeves character get caught up in his undercover gig is fascinating - even if it's pretty badly acted at times - especially as he begins to suspect Swayze’s character of being one of the bank robbers. Make no mistake, Johnny has no desire to let the bad guys go, but he’s totally enamored by the spiritual guru that is Bodhi. He legitimately likes the guy. Reeves is often accused of having limited range – which isn’t totally untrue – but you’d never know it in this movie. His performance still might not be great, but he definitely shows more emotion in this role than many others.
Swayze is even better as the mysterious and charismatic surfer Bodhi; who is just too fucking cool for school. He’s one hip dude and you are torn between wanting to hang out with him and staying as far away from him as possible; because he is kind of wreckless and full of shit. This movie really made me miss the awesomeness of this guy. He was so versatile. He could do movies I could care less about (like Ghost or Dirty Dancing), but lose no man points at all because of something like this, Roadhouse, or The Outsiders. Swayze was a fucking boss.
The supporting cast were fun too. Gary Busey was great as the sloppy, but loveable partner Angelo Pappas. His character might have been the veteran, but he was the sidekick and he played that part well. He is funny as shit. Most of the funny moments were unintentional, but Busey was legit comedicc gold. Lori Petty was also quite good as the fiery love interest Tyler. Ok, she was melodramatic as it gets, but I loved it. It’s a shame her career tanked after this and A League of Their Own, because she really owned that small, angry, aggressive type. Even the minor characters were solid. Some of the guys playing surfers were just great at playing that stereotype. Anthony Kiedis totally looks the part as one of the rival surfers who jump Reeves character. Speaking of looking the part, I have to mention Vincent Klyn. Who? Yeah, I know, he’s a nobody, but this guy had the look of a villain. He was big, mean, and a physical specimen. It’s too bad he didn’t land more roles like this (in movies that people actually saw). The look, the way they spoke, all the bad stereotypes were there.
Fans of old school action movies have to see this one. Action, thrills, cliche characters, all the classic elements of an old-school action movie are there.
Rating: Thumbs enthusiastically up.
This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on January 1, 2013. It was updated on June 22, 2015.
What She said
I don't consider myself to really be a serious or established film critic. Let's be honest, I'm just a silly know-nothing who likes to hear herself talk about things that most people don't really care about. But last weekend, I'm proud to say that I moved one step closer to becoming a professional film critic, a true expert of the craft, because I finally broke down and watched the 1991 cult classic action flick, Point Break. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who really love this movie, and after seeing it, I can understand why.
Is Point Break an Oscar worthy cinematic experience marked by a tightly written storyline and stellar performances? Oh, so very far from that. But is it a whole lot of fun? Why, yes--yes it is. This Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Petty, and Gary Busey gem is light, silly, and action-packed. The story is so beyond absurd that the very fact that someone financed the idea to bring it to the big screen makes me chuckle. And yet there's something very necessary about this film. It had to exist to really make the early 90s come alive, and needs to continue to be respected as an homage to bad hair and even worse fashion.
So, let me take a moment to bring you up to speed on the glorious storyline of this film--just in case you are one of the few who have not seen it already. We are introduced to the young and ambitious Johnny Utah (Reeves), and no, I'm not kidding, that's actually his character's name. Utah is a former college football standout who is now working as an FBI agent. He is assigned partnership with an older, more experienced agent named Angelo Pappas (Busey), and right away the two are like oil and vinegar. The could not have less in common.
Anyway, the two are investigating a string of bank robberies where the criminals dress up like U.S. presidents. The 'gent donning the Richard Nixon mask even does a pretty convincing impersonation. The crew is pretty skilled, operating fast and always taking only from the drawers, not the safe. This has proven effective over the course of years, and they continue to go unrecognized as their attacks become more brazen and their hauls get bigger. Pappas has really been studying the crew and has a working theory--they're a bunch of surfers. Laughable, right? Well, he has his reasons for believing this, including the timeline for the heists and the distinctive tanlines of the criminals. I know, I'm laughing already.
So Utah decides to follow-up on Pappas's hunch, which brings him to the surf beach. He goes undercover in an effort to infiltrate, and targets a misguided surfer girl named Tyler Endicott (Petty) to assist him in learning the basics. She feels a bond with Utah--fueled largely by raging hormones--and takes him under her wing. That is when Utah is introduced to the dashing Bodhi (Swayze), ring leader of the cool kids surfer gang. As Utah strengthens his relationship with the crew, he begins to pursue possible leads in the robbery cases. Utah finds himself growing closer and closer with Bodhi just as evidence begins to implicate him and his friends in the crimes. He even strikes up a physical relationship with Endicott. Can Johnny Utah set aside his allegiances for the sake of closing the case and bringing down the bad guys? Just how awesome is Johnny Utah? Literally, the sky is the limit with this guy.
Ok, so let's start by talking about the bad of Point Break. If you are one of those people who enjoys tight scripting, smart dialogue, and superior acting, well, you're going to leave the theater sorely disappointed. This movie is about the dumbest of the dumb. It's sort of a parody of action movies. Let's start with the dialogue. We've got some lines in this film that are just so out there bad that you cannot help but laugh when you hear them. Furthermore, we're still in those early years of Keanu Reeves's acting career, when he was was about as wooden as a shoe horn. I think there were moments where I could actually see his eyes trailing as he read the cue cards. Of course, this only enhances the already bad scripted material that he's working with. Busey is better, of course, but even his dialogue is nothing spectacular. He's used mostly as comic relief, and is obviously the brains of the duo. Swayze seems like he was having the time of his life while filming this movie. He appears to be hiding laughter during most of his scenes with Reeves. If ever I were to meet a bank robber, I'd want him to be as chill and philosophical as Bodhi.
Kathryn Bigelow really challenges the limits of what viewers can see and believe. I mean, I know they’re surfers, but why not have them jump out of a plane just for the heck of it. There are so many elements of this film that are completely irrelevant to each other, but they’re still fun and so they’ve earned a spot in the final production.
These are all the things that make Point Break absolutely awful. And yet, these are all the things that also make Point Break ridiculously awesome as well. Clearly, this movie was not meant to be taken seriously. It oozes 90s cheese, and I get the vibe it was just created for the fun factor. Like, "Hey, look what we did because we want to really blow your mind!" You win Kathryn Bigelow. My mind was blown. I could not believe what I was seeing on so many levels. I could not believe that a movie about surfer bank robbers would ever be created. I could not believe that one would cast an obviously green Reeves in a leading man role. And I could not believe that the line, "I caught my first tube today...Sir," would be eclipsed by, "Bodhi, this is your f%^(#%& wake-up call man. I am an F, B, I, agent!" *POW* That's the sound of my mind exploding.
Point Break is every movie rule broken wrapped up neatly in a package that is sure to delight. It's so flippin' fun that it comes as no shock that this movie quickly ascended to cult classic status. Do yourself a favor--get a six pack or a bottle of wine and watch this movie on a Friday or Saturday night. It's a blast.