It took me until 2015 to see Point Break, but damn it’s a great movie

Point Break 1991

I saw it last night for the first time (Amazon Prime, baby). If you’ve never seen it and have no idea what it is, read this. It’s got a 68 on Rotten Tomatoes, with a slightly-higher audience score of 79.

I can do the basic premise for you pretty quickly: Keanu Reeves is a former Ohio State QB who busted his knee in the Rose Bowl. He moves to Los Angeles and becomes an FBI agent. His “older, more established” partner is Pappas, played by Gary Busey. Gary Busey’s been chasing this bank-robber ring — they wear Presidential masks while robbing banks — for years, and he thinks he has a lead on ’em: they’re surfers, goddamn it! Everyone mocks him for this. He essentially turns Keanu Reeves into a surfer — hardly a stretch — to infiltrate and determine who it could be. Initially, we think it’s this other gang featuring Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

That turns out to not be true after another fight scene, and it turns out the crew Keanu had been befriending — led by Patrick Swayze as a guy named Bodhi, which is also a tree of enlightenment in old-school Buddhist thought (I think) — are the bad guys. Keanu and Busey try to get them while they’re in their masks — and BTW, here’s a general scene of them with masks for context:

— and of course, the bad guys get away, but now they know their friend Keanu is an agent. A lot of stuff spirals out of control from there, and many people die. It all leads to this:

That’s supposed to be a beach in Australia, but it’s actually filmed in Oregon.

This movie has a few things going for it, notably:

  • The action sequences are excellent.
  • The yin-and-yang of why Swayze’s crew is bad (“us against the man!”) is periodically interesting.
  • Having villains be surfer skydivers is kind of cool.
  • Gary Busey is always somewhat entertaining.

It has a handful of things going against it, too:

  • Keanu Reeves literally cannot act in this movie.
  • Lori Petty, whose only good role was A League Of Their Own, is kinda awful as Keanu’s love interest and Swayze’s ex-love interest.
  • Almost nothing in the movie makes any logical sense from a “what people would do in that situation” standpoint. For example, at one point Keanu leaps from a plane without a parachute to catch Swazye. It’s so in pop culture lore now that Mythbusters did a segment about it:

I guess the good outweighs the bad for someone, though — they’re remaking this movie for a Christmas-ish release:

You can argue all day about whether this movie needs to be remade, but now having seen the original, I’ll probably go see this.

If you’d like to get a quote from someone a lot more intelligent than me about movies, here’s the original Roger Ebert review:

Bigelow is an interesting director for this material. She is interested in the ways her characters live dangerously for philosophical reasons. They aren’t men of action, but men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs. That adds an intriguing element to their characters, and makes the final confrontation in this movie as meaningful as it can be, given the admittedly preposterous nature of the material.

Bigelow and her crew are also gifted filmmakers. There’s a footchase through the streets, yards, alleys and living rooms of Santa Monica; two skydiving sequences with virtuoso photography, powerful chemistry between the good and evil characters, and an ominous, brooding score by Mark Isham that underlines the mood. The plot of “Point Blank,” summarized, invites parody (rookie agent goes undercover as surfer to catch bank robbers). The result is surprisingly effective.

If you’re wondering who Bigelow is, it’s not WWF star Bam Bam. It’s Kathryn Bigelow, who at the time was married to James Cameron (he EPs this movie) and later won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker (a very different type of film than Point Break, obviously). Interestingly, the opening weekend of Point Break went head-to-head with the opening weekend of T2, which is a James Cameron movie. Maybe that explains their divorce, eh?

Overall, I’d give this thing three stars. The action sequences are sweet and it moves very fast for a little over 2 hours.

Ted Bauer