Point Break brings us back to a time when Patrick Swayze was a bigger name than Keanu Reeves. In 1991, Swayze was coming off the enormously successful Ghost whereas Reeves was transitioning between Bill and Ted movies. In Point Break, Reeves dominates the screen time department but it's Swayze who gets first billing and demands all the attention with his insatiable energy.
Released in mid-summer, the film made some waves at the box office, thanks largely to its intriguing plot that inserts the surfing sub-culture into the undercover cop formula. Reeves plays rookie cop Johnny Utah, a confident all-American boy from Ohio recruited by the California FBI Department. He's paired with the somewhat kooky veteran FBI agent, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), and assigned to investigate a string of bank robberies by a group knows as the "ex-presidents"Â who dress in suits and don rubber masks of Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Carter. Pappas has a sneaking suspicion that the criminals are in actuality surfers moonlighting as bank robbers. He instructs Utah to go undercover on the beaches of Malibu and infiltrate the world of wet suits and surf boards.
In his original review, Roger Ebert described the plot perfectly when he wrote, "[it] could work just as easily for The Naked Gun 3 Â½."Â However, he went on to elaborate in his strongly positive critique that Point Break works so well because it takes its potentially goofy material very seriously. And he's exactly right. As hard as it is to imagine a genuinely good movie where the protagonist is named Johnny Utah and played by Reeves with at least two woah's, Point Break is one of the more invigorating and well-made action films of the early 90s.
Much of the reason the film works is because of director Kathryn Bigelow's sure-handedness. Bigelow is quite possibly the most testosterone-friendly female director in the history of cinema. With films like Near Dark, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker, Bigelow has proven she can direct high octane thrillers with a human touch without things getting syrupy. She's got a natural talent for stylistic flair but she reins it in through careful attention to character. This ability to juggle emotions helps keep the film steady as it must convince the viewer of both the procedural aspect of the police department and the spirituality behind surfing.
Point Break contains some remarkable surfing footage, made even more impressive by the technical limitations of the time period. She also achieves a powerhouse one-two combo around the one hour mark in which a gripping sting operation is followed by a foot chase composed with frantic detail. In some ways, the film peaks during these heightened moments of anxiety when the conventions of the police genre overwhelm those of the surfer enlightenment. Viewers more invested in the detective case may be dismayed by the film's third act which
The first time I saw this movie I was about 13 years old so, of course, it's impossible for me to view it the same way I did back then. At the time, I was enchanted by the spectacle of the waves and the robberies and to an extent, I'm still captivated by Bigelow's strong visuals. But some eight years later, I've become more aware of some of the crude police stereotypes and the nagging clichés. Similarly, first-time viewers will see a different movie than those who saw it in 1991. Most notably, the performances have acquired a retrospective coating of unintentional humor. Reeves' lack of fervor in his vocal delivery seems more apparent than ever and unlike outrageous films like Constantine where it works as a self-effacing wink to the audience, it just feels uninvolved here. Busey, who was graduating from the silent henchman in Lethal Weapon to the Danny Glover role in Point Break has become a servant to his bizarre public image in recent years and thus his role takes on an even comedic slant. Also, John C. McGinley as FBI agent Ben Harp is a clear precursor to his future role as the irascible Dr. Cox on Scrubs, straight down to the introductory steadicam walk-and-talk that has become a staple of the sitcom. The one lead performance that hasn't suffered with time is Swayze, who with his mane of sun-bleached blond hair and charismatic aura gives the deepest performance of his career.
The newly released "Pure Adrenaline Edition"Â boasts deleted scenes, a still gallery and four featurettes.
The Eight Deleted Scenes are a total disappointment. They're presented in horrible condition, spoiled with fuzzy footage, incomplete sound mixing and timestamps. Infuriatingly, you can't choose to watch the scenes back-to-back and have to view each one individually. This becomes quite tiring as most of them are extremely brief, with the most offensive scene lasting a meager six seconds, amounting to two lines of throwaway dialogue.
The featurettes are much more engaging than the deleted scenes. The first and most comprehensive is entitled It's Make of Break and recounts the film's conception and the various false starts before the film finally got made. At one point, Ridley Scott was involved and both Charlie Sheen and Johnny Depp were initially courted to play the role of Johnny Utah. It includes on-screen interviews with many of the crew members and all the principle cast members minus Reeves. It's predictably but nonetheless satisfyingly funny to hear Busey explaining his interpretation of the film's message and his views on the
Ride the Wave is a reverent homage to the sea. At six minutes, it's not very comprehensive and isn't very Ernest Hemingway-esque in its descriptive language.
Adrenaline Junkies focuses on the stunts, reiterating Swayze's love of sky diving and how he had to battle insurance companies in order to be allowed to do his own stunts. Fortunately he was persuasive enough and presence really does help sell the film's climactic scenes.
Then there's On Location: Malibu which features actors/surfers John Philbin and Bojesse Christopher, who play Nathanial and Grommet respectively in the film. The two revisit some of the locations from the film and reminisce about production memories. Both seem like nice guys but at eight minutes, the featurette grows a bit wearisome.
Next, we have a Still Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos which give us minor insight into the production.
Lastly, we have three versions of the Theatrical Trailer, all of which are extremely silly. The graphics and non-descript action music feel heavily influenced by the popularity of Sega Genesis games.
All in all, the special features aren't that impressive but it's an improvement over the previous bare-bones edition and more importantly, it gives reason to revisit a somewhat overlooked but highly entertaining action film from the early 90s.
Movie Grade: B
DVD Grade: B-
Overall Grade: B