So the Point Break remake is happening. There is a trailer, and it’s as underwhelming as lukewarm ice cream. Beyond the usual morass of hate, most of the internet is awash with comments of how the new bad guy (Edgar Ramirez – Wrath of the Titans) cannot possibly replace Patrick Swayze (Road House).
I’d be a lying bastard if I said I didn’t slightly agree with them. But what did make Swayze’s take on New Age-bank robber extraordinaire Bodhi so memorable? Let’s find out.
Point Break (the 1991 version) is a classic action crime movie about surfing. It’s the follow-up to Blue Steel from director Kathryn Bigelow (later Oscar winner for Hurt Locker). Former football star and hot shot rookie FBI agent, Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves – Speed), is on the trail of the Ex-Presidents – uncatchable LA bank robbers. They’re called the Ex Presidents because they all wear rubber masks of former presidents.
His erstwhile partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey – Under Siege) is the laughing stock of the bureau because of his wild theories about the Presidents. It’s a summer job for these clowns, and their lack of tan-lines and propensity for using Sex Wax© makes the grizzled Nam-vet think these guys are surfers. You know, travelling on the money they steal, following the waves, and enjoying an endless summer.
Utah buys into this and volunteers to go under cover. He can’t go around holding his ’69 chevvy pink surfboard and acting stoned though. These surfer guys have their own language. It’s like a tribe thing.
The first attempt at surfing in the actual ocean ends in Utah nearly drowning. He’s saved by the spunky surfer wildgirl Tyler (Lori Petty – Tank Girl). Her police record paints a vivid picture – public indecency, intoxication. She’s an orphan too, and Utah whips up a story about how his own parents are dead which catches her interest. She agrees to teach him and the training begins. Cue montage.
As Utah progresses in ability, he notices a lone super-badass surfer out on the waves. This is Bodhi (Patrick Swayze – Road House). Tyler knows him, and describes him as a searcher. Searching for what? The ride. The ultimate thrill ride. Mid-description, Bodhi sneaks up and ambushes Tyler from behind. They share a kiss, and Utah is a bit wounded. Quick introductions are made, and Utah catches a football thrown by Bodhi’s pals further down the beach. The two alpha males lock eyes and it’s on – an impromptu game of beach American Football.
Johnny’s football skills allow his team to pull ahead in the scores. Things get competitive between him and Bodhi. It nearly comes to blows but it’s quickly all cool again as Bodhi recognizes Johnny for who he is (or was). When it’s all said and done, they part as friends.
If you hadn’t figured out that Bodhi and his crew are the real Ex-Presidents, well I don’t know what to say to you. You obviously didn’t check out the poster.
Meanwhile, the Ex-Presidents have robbed two more banks! FBI boss, Ben Harp (John C. McGinley – Platoon, The Rock) is up Utah’s and Pappas’ asses over getting some results. After some clever detective work, they figure out which break the ‘Presidents are surfing. Utah get’s out there, and causes some trouble with a local surfer gang. He get’s a punch in the face for starters, and a full on gang brawl for dessert. Out-numbered, and getting beat down by the likes of War Child (pro-surfer Vincent Klyn – Cyborg) and Tone (Anthony Kiedis), Bodhi jumps in to Utah’s help.
Bodhi demonstrates some New-Age karate skills and the pair defeat the gang with ease. Heading back to their cars, Bodhi explains that “they’re doing it for the wrong reasons” and that their brains are “wired all wrong”. He doesn’t know if they’re into any criminal shit though.
They sure fit the profile of the Presidents – Time spent inside for B&E, assault, and other niceties. Both Johnny and Pappas think they have their men. It’ll take time for the warrant to come through though. Enough time for Utah and Tyler to go to Bodhi’s house party.
It’s what you’d expect from a bunch of hippy surfers. Lot’s of long hair and Jimi Hendrix. Bodhi is the perfect host, offering whatever is his (Tyler) to Johnny. It ends up outside with the crew discussing thrills and big wave riding. Bodhi believes in a mythical super-wave that’ll be hitting Australia next year. He’ll be there and accepts the fact he’ll probably die surfing it. The mentality of “Hell, I’ll probably be dead by time I’m 30” pervades this group, and it’s sickening for everyone who is over thirty (like me).
To cap off the perfect party, they head out on a “stealth mission” – midnight surfing. This culminates in Utah and Tyler having some beach sex making Johnny late for his morning raid. Things go further south when an annoying neighbour starts mowing his lawn. It’s so loud that the back-up team can’t hear Johnny screaming over the radio that the bad guys are tooled up with steyr augs and stuff.
Guns get drawn and bad guys get clipped. Utah get’s beat up by a topless babe, then follows War Child through a window. His face is nearly ripped off by the lawn mower but Pappas intervenes at the last second. Boom, they have their men. Just not the right men.
Nice cameo by Tom Sizemore.
After a grilling by Harp, Utah has time to think and finally realizes that it’s probably Bodhi and his mates. His suspicions are confirmed after some shady tailing. But the FBI aren’t willing to double down on another one of Utah’s hunches. So Pappas and Johnny go stealthmode and stake out the local bank that Bodhi was checking out.
Turns out they were right. Shame Utah is too busy ordering hot dogs for Pappas. A badass chase ensues, with the JFK-masked Bodhi throwing everything in Utah’s way from dogs and swings, to flaming gas pumps. It’s a totally well executed foot and car chase culminating with Utah blowing out his knee after a fall. But he’s got Bodhi dead in his sights…they lock eyes…and he can’t pull the trigger.
Whether it’s some mentor/master thing, or an urge to bring him in the right way, or because he loves him so much, Utah just can’t do it. So Bodhi gets away.
Bodhi’s gang are all for offing Utah and getting out of dodge. But Bodhi has other plans. By this point, Tyler has also found out who Utah is, and done a runner. The Ex-Presidents turn up at his door all innocent like, pretending like they don’t know he knows that they know he knows they’re bank robbers. They decide to go skydiving for a laugh.
Cue some badass shots of actual Patrick Swayze sky-diving cut up with wide shots of Stunt Keanu and close ups of Real Keanu. They hit the deck and Bodhi reveals that he’s got Tyler tied up somewhere, and his buddie Rosie is gonna cut her up if they don’t all go and rob a bank, Utah included.
They hit the bank in full gear. Utah doesn’t get a creepy rubber mask, but is given a gun without bullets and a bullet proof vest. Things start to unravel as Bodhi goes into the vault (something they never do – to save time). He knows that they’re beyond the point of return, and they won’t be back. He needs the dollar to make good an escape. A permanent escape.
The extra time gives Italian Joe, an off-duty cop, time to pull his gun and slay Grommet/LBJ of the ‘presidents (aided by a pussy security guard). He’s taken out mid-re-load by Bodhi, whose now gone full bastard. They flee the scene after feeding Utah a pistol-whip flavoured sandwich.
He awakens with FBI all over the place. Harp is having him arrested as an accessory to bank robbery and cop killing. Pappas offers to bring him in, but only after laying out Harp. Pappas knows that Utah knows where Bodhi is going – the air field, so they head out.
A lack of backup costs them, as Pappas is shot in the back. He takes out Nethaniel/Carter, and puts one in Roach/Nixon. Utah, desperate to save Tyler, jumps on board the plane Bodhi has chartered. Mid-flight, they plan to bail out with the money, giving the Fed’s the slip.
Without a parachute Utah is stuck. He’s seething badly when Bodhi is all “lol, so close bro” as he makes his jump. Utah picks up Bodhi’s discarded gun and follows him, sans parachute. He ambushes Bodhi mid-air in a pretty spectacular stunt.
This poses a problem. Utah is using one arm to hold onto Bodhi. The other is holding the gun. Bodhi is one reckless bastard, and isn’t going to pull his shoot. So they’re both gonna be meat-paste unless Utah drops the handcannon to pull the rip-chord. He does so, with a few feet to spare. They both splash down, but Utah blows out his knee again.
Rosie pulls up in a jeep and releases Tyler. She’s clearly forgiven Utah at this point (a few nights with a hairy homocidal knifeman will do that). Roach died in the air, but that ain’t stopping Bodhi and Rosie taking his cash bags. They get off in the jeep, leaving Utah and Tyler hugging each other.
Utah, now with longer hair, is in Australia. It’s raining, uncharacteristically. He’s heading to the beach. All of the other surfers are heading back to their cars, save one. Like he predicted, Bodhi is here to ride the super storm. But Utah want’s his man. He has to go down for all the dark shit he’s done. After a tussle, Utah get’s bested but manages to cuff himself to Bodhi. The Feds are on their way in the background to take him away.
Bodhi knows he can’t handle a life stretch in the pen, so begs his former friend to let him go, to catch one last wave. He can’t get away. It’s not like he can paddle to New Zealand. Utah understands what he really wants and takes off the cuffs.
The Feds reach him as Bodhi paddles off to meet his destiny. “You let him go!?…it’s alright, we’ll get him when he comes back”.
“He ain’t coming back”.
Utah is done now. Both of his mentors, Pappas and Bodhi, are dead (or soon will be). His ascension from rookie cop to badass dude is complete. He doesn’t need a badge anymore, so throws it in the sea.
Cue guitar riffs and credits.
So what makes Point Break so great, so…unrepeatable? Well, lets start with the fact that the action sequences are really good, and really varied. They’re not endless, they’re not repeated. There’s plenty of shooting, plenty of good squibbage. Some martial arts. Some car chases. Some airplane stuff. The actors (largely) do all of their own stunts. Plus, how many films about surfing intermingled with intense bank robberies have you seen? I’ll go out on a limb and guess not fucking many.
But what makes it really memorable are the characters. Every character is there for a reason. Everyone serves a purpose and everyone has a moment to shine. Even select cameos from Chili’s frontman Anthony Keidis or Tom Sizemore are given the right amount of time to be effective.
Keanu fits the role well as the young quaterback punk eager to make an impression on his FBI bosses. Busey is as insane and enjoyable to watch as ever. He’s the perfect foil for the straight laced and obnoxious office-dick played by McGinley. Lori Petty nails that spunky young chick that you’d love to have mixed with that one summer too.
Yet the real star is the boss bastard, Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze. Yeah, yeah it’s easy to get all misty and sing the praises of a guy who died way too young. But the intense energy he brings to the role is unquestionable. And he’s likable. He’s cool. He’s not a bully or cruel or any of the other negative traits you’d expect from a master criminal. He’s a nice guy with far out ideas. It takes a few deaths to remind you that he is the bad guy, and not a prophet (a mistake Utah makes at first).
Of course, we’ve had loads of films where the bad guy is just a dark reflection of the bad guy. Bodhi recognises himself in Utah, and vice versa. But ultimately Bodhi is a professional bank robber. Yet he’s closer to The Joker than John Dillinger. He doesn’t thieve for greed or even as an occupation. He does it for the rush. He does it, as Pappas says, “to finance their endless summer”. He has a message (“to remind all those people in their metal coffins on the freeway that you can be free”), and he’s pitched it to the rest of his cronies as some harmless fun.
Compared to the shit that Warchild and his gang are into, what they are doing shouldn’t matter, right?
Director Kathryn Bigelow would go on to do some more action fare with the likes of Strange Days, and K19: Widowmaker before capturing the Oscar for Hurt Locker. How many directors can say they’ve made a career out of high end action films and won the big one? Personally, I enjoyed her follow-up to ‘Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, even more.
The world was the oyster for young Keanu, who would of course go on to scale the heights of Hollywood with action masterpieces like Speed and The Matrix. For Swayze, on the other-hand, Point Break heralded perhaps his last great film at the height of his power. He sadly died in 2009.
Point Break sells that murky line between good and bad, right and wrong , and wraps it within a pretty standard cop movie framework. It’s not a typical buddie movie though. It’s more like Platoon, just in LA and not the jungle. Johnny Utah is Charlie Sheen’s Chris. Born from two Fathers, Pappas/Elias and Barnes/Bodhi that reflect the good and bad of his own psyche.
Psychobabble aside, we care about both the hero and the bad guy he’s after. And that’s pretty unusual for most standard action films. As is the fact there is no CGI effects in this bad boy. It’s all physical, son. And I respect the hell out of films that do that. Get it watched.