With some seriously good action scenes as well as solid surfing and spectacular skydiving cinematography, “Point Break” is a winner. It’s not perfect, but it has Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze doing some good, watchable work and you can become drawn into the story all too easily. You’ll almost miss the neat effort by the female lead (you’ll remember her from “Free Willy”) in this testosterone-filled flick. So, here’s another one to check out if you haven’t seen it in a while or get it if you haven’t seen it at all. It’s worth your time. Oh, and don’t bother with the remake … it is just a disgrace to the “Point Break” name.
(1991; 122 minutes; rated R; directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey)
GETTING HOOKED ON MORE THAN JUST SURFING
(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion and updating of links on July 16, 2016. I expanded this review in the same way again on Dec. 23, 2018.)
“Point Break” is good, but it is a somewhat seriously flawed film. Nevertheless, you get drawn into its story and characters and they overwhelm any and all of its flaws. From a bit of over-acting to stereotypes to a contrived, vastly silly ending, “Point Break” emerges as watchable, enjoyable and without a doubt visually stunning. I hadn’t seen the remake when I wrote this review and when I did, I found it to be terrible – click here for that review.
Not only does “Point Break” have solid performances, but it is highlighted by exciting cinematography – from surfing to extreme skydiving and there’s absolutely no doubt you’ll get a thrill out of the visuals.
In “Point Break,” Keanu Reeves, who plays FBI agent “Johnny Utah,” comes out of training and is assigned to bank robbery detail in the Los Angeles office. He’s teamed up with cynical veteran agent “Angelo Pappas” played by Gary Busey and they’re soon on the trail of a gang of robbers known as “The Presidents” because they wear rubber masks of the former leaders.
Busey has an unconventional theory about the robbers: They are surfers. Soon, Reeves is wet-suited up and getting into the surfing scene after conning Lori Petty, who plays “Tyler Endicott” and is the love interest of Reeves and the past love interest of Patrick Swayze, into teaching him how to surf. It is through her that he meets Patrick Swayze, who plays “Bodhi” the spiritual soul surfer who (of course) turns out to be the leader of “The Presidents.”
The film plays out with Reeves becoming more enamored of Petty and admiring of Swayze, at least until he realizes that, despite from his one misstep in mis-identifying the bad guys, Swayze is THE bad guy. The action moves from the take-down of another gang to the exciting live-on-the-edge lifestyle of Swayze and his boys.
The two studs finally square off and Swayze rides off into the sunset until Reeves catches up to him in the most contrived ending to a film you’ll find in recent years.
Here’s a look at some of the primary cast:
- Reeves is good here, but sometimes overplays his character. He’s good at offhand and his introspective moments with Petty and he does a good job of showing how to fall under Swayze’s edgy spell. What he’s not good at is getting angry. He’s better as “Neo” than he is at flying off the handle. Of course, Reeves’ signature work is in “The Matrix” franchise as well as doing his career best in my opinion in “Speed” with Sandra Bullock. He was also in “Little Buddha” and “47 Ronin” and his small part was just about perfect in Ron Howard’s “Parenthood” (click here for my review).
- A three-time Golden Globe nominee (not for this one), Swayze is very good as “Bodhi,” but he too suffers a bit when he pushes too much emotion in scenes too quickly (say when he and Reeves meet and the director obviously wants a connection too fast). However, he’s perfect (especially with his hair!) as the surfing bank robber and obviously enjoys the role. Swayze is most often recognized from “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost” and was also in the original “Red Dawn” (click here for my review). I also liked his effort in “Road House” (click here for my review). He died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the age of 57.
- Petty as “Tyler” offers some of the most crackling emotional moments in the film. She has a reputation of being a somewhat temperamental actor on set, but it doesn’t show in any of her work. Petty is simply talented and has piercing eyes that she uses here to great effect (especially in contrast to her deep-black hair color here). Petty shows strength, intelligence and integrity here despite a little-girl voice (her talent overshadows this potential negative). I first noticed Petty’s work with the kids flick “Free Willy” and she was energetic in “A League of Their Own” and was also in the cult favorite “Tank Girl.”
- An Oscar nominee (not for this one), Busey does his usual good job of being an off-beat character here, although he does try a bit of true professionalism before the fate of his doomed character is played out. Of course, Busey got his nomination as well as a Golden Globe nomination playing the title character in “The Buddy Holly Story” and was also in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Under Siege” (click here for my review) as well one of his tightest dramatic efforts in “Lethal Weapon.”
With these four actors at the fore, the film doesn’t much showcase too much talent from the main body of the supporting cast. However, one manages to stand out: John C. McGinley as the FBI agent supervising Reeves and Busey. He does his usual good turn as the excitable, volcanic, know-it-all, up-tight, look-for-the-problem type administrator. McGinley starts off fast, but his character does a slow disappearing act. He also played a similar type character in HBO’s “The Pentagon Wars” (click here for my review) and was also in “Any Given Sunday” and “Platoon” as well as TV’s “Scrubs.” He was also terrific as one of “the Bobs” in the cult favorite “Office Space” (click here for my review).
All in all, it’s a tale well told on the big screen. However, it’s not without it flaws. With a contrived ending being the worst.
The film’s denouement happens after Swayze escapes from his showdown with Reeves. He is tracked to Australia as he tries to catch a massive wave that he has been saying he’ll catch through the entire film. The two fight and instead of a better ending of Swayze captured without catching his big wave, he’s allowed to surf to his supposed death and Reeves tosses his badge away.
Director Kathryn Bigelow or screenwriter W. Peter Iliff certainly have a post-graduate degree in stereotypes and contrived endings with this one (plus executive producer James Cameron, since he and Bigelow re-wrote the screenplay, but he wasn’t credited because of a flap with the Writers Guild, according to IMDb.com).
However, Bigelow gets good marks here, but not as many as I believe she deserved for the great vampire flick “Near Dark” (click here for my review). She is a very underappreciated director.
Oh, just in case you didn’t remember, here are “The Presidents” and the men represented with their masks:
- Swayze’s “Bohdi” used a President Ronald Reagan mask
- James LeGros’ “Roach” used a President Richard Nixon mask
- John Philbin’s “Nathaniel” used a President Jimmy Carter mask
- Bojesse Christopher’s “Grommet” used a President Lyndon B. Johnson mask
“Point Break” was the 29th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1991 with $43.2 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. Including worldwide sales, “Point Break” topped out with $83.5 million against a $24 million budget, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” with $204.8 million. Here are the other films from that year that I’ve reviewed for my blog:
- “Dutch” (unexpectedly good) – click here for my review
- “Father of the Bride” (really good) – click here for my review
- “Necessary Roughness” (solid) – click here for my review
- “New Jack City” (great crime drama) – click here for my review
- “Silence of the Lambs” (outstanding) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Tom Sizemore, who was great in “Saving Private Ryan” as well as doing a solid turn in “Heat” (click here for my review), has an uncredited role as “DEA Agent Deets.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The film was originally called ‘Johnny Utah’ when Keanu Reeves was cast in the title role. The studio felt that this title said very little about surfing, and by the time Patrick Swayze was cast, the film had been renamed Riders on the Storm after the famous song by The Doors. However, the lyrics had nothing to do with the film, and so that title was also rejected. It was not until halfway through filming, that ‘Point Break’ became the film’s title, because of its relevance to surfing.”
- The beach location for the football game was filmed at the same place as the soccer game in “The Karate Kid.”
- Here’s another casting mistake that didn’t happen: Matthew Broderick was offered the role of “Johnny Utah.” Can you imagine? A gun-toting, surfing, FBI Agent “Ferris Bueller?” It would have been horrid. Both Val Kilmer and Willem Dafoe turned down the role and both would have been interesting choices (unlike Broderick), but neither one strikes me as being anywhere near the character that Reeves managed to achieve.
- Reeves observed real FBI agents in the Los Angeles area in preparation for his character and he also worked with coaches at UCLA to help him with his football action.
- Anthony Kiedis of the “Red Hot Chili Peppers” band has a turn here as “Tone” and he does a workmanlike job and very much looks the part.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Patrick Swayze was an accomplished skydiver, and took part in the big skydiving scene. He made fifty-five jumps in total.”
- Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about the film …
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