For 122 minutes, Point Break hurtles across the screen in a flash of unadulterated silliness. Its premise is off the wall. The dialogue often descends into New Age hooey, soaked in testosterone. Many of its action scenes throw up a middle finger to the laws of physics. On paper, nothing about Point Break should distinguish it as a cult classic. And yet, thirty-one years later, here we are. So many of the old movies we’ve screened for our Cinemavino podcast have turned from wine to vinaigrette. Here, at last, is one that’s still pouring like a first-growth Bordeaux.
The plot feels like a sativa-fueled session of Mad Libs gone horribly right: Keanu Reeves plays the gloriously-named Johnny Utah, a greenhorn FBI agent stationed in Los Angeles. His new partner is Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), a paunchy, grouchy ol’ sum’bitch who pines for the L.A. of the 60s, before “the air got dirty and the sex got clean.” For their first case together, Utah and Pappas get a humdinger. It seems a resourceful group of young rapscallions have been robbing dozens of banks, all while wearing the Halloween masks of several ex-presidents–Reagan, Carter, Johnson, and Nixon, to be exact. Every summer, this gang pulls one bank job after another, only to get away scot free.
As you might guess, Pappas has a hunch about this mobile Mt. Rushmore: Because the ex-presidents only pull jobs in the summer, and only where the nearby waves are totally bitchin’, they must be surfers. So, Johnny Utah hatches a plan to infiltrate the L.A. surfing community and suss out the identity of the ex-presidents. I can only hope that last sentence was as much fun to read as it was to type.
Anyway. Because Utah comes across as a Midwestern rube, he desperately needs a way to fit in with the locals. Fortunately, he meets Tyler (Lori Petty), a plucky cashier at the nearby food stand. At first, Tyler wants none of Utah’s hick with a heart of gold routine…but he’s just so darn cute, you guys. She agrees to teach him just enough about surfing to not become a snack for the corals.
Through Tyler, Utah comes across Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Zen and charismatic, Bodhi acts as the alpha of this particular beach. He and Utah hit it off pretty quickly, but there’s also something menacing within Bodhi’s seemingly benevolent surfer persona. With his serene demeanor and philosophical mumbo jumbo, Bodhi seems about one step away from passing out Kool-Aid to his wild-eyed followers. Even though Utah doesn’t want to face it, he may have stumbled onto the ex-presidents.
All that plot is really just a clothesline to hang a few stunningly ambitious action scenes. Bodhi and Utah’s adrenaline addiction gives director Kathryn Bigelow the perfect excuse to stage exquisite shots of surfing, skydiving, and a pulse-pounding chase through the streets of L.A. The film’s centerpiece is an extended free fall sequence, in which the actors themselves participate. Seriously, how did the studio’s insurance company allow Reeves and Swayze to do this? (Swayze reportedly did over fifty jumps for the film.) In any case, the end result is breathtaking, and it will only play better on modern 4K screens.
Now, let’s talk about the performances. Neither Swayze or Reeves are particularly versatile actors. In fact, both carved out pretty nice careers by staying within their emotional comfort zones. With that said, both actors were made for these roles, and they absolutely kill it. If anything, their limited range ends up enhancing the movie’s irresistible campiness. That also goes for Busey, who seems so naturally eccentric, you have to wonder if he’s even acting here. (Fun fact: Look for Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis during a beach fight scene.)
Put simply, I adore this movie. As a kid, it was a goofy, violent, raunchy spectacle, and the fact I probably wasn’t supposed to watch it only deepened my enjoyment. Thirty years later, a layer of 90s nostalgia adds an extra texture of deliciousness. Point Break is the pinnacle of guilty pleasure escapism–the perfect collision of brilliant and stupid. Nothing about this movie should work so well, which is all the more reason to love it.
122 min. R. On demand.