“If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price” – Bodhi
We’re going back to ’91 to revisit Kathryn Bigelow’s “100% pure adrenaline” thrill ride, Point Break. Starring Keanu Reeves as “FBI AGENT” Johnny Utah. Fresh from college into the F.B.I. working the robbery division on the sun-kissed coastline of California. He gets partnered up with the wonderfully cuckoo Papas (Gary Busey). A hardened and experienced cop whose been trying to catch a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents for the last few years but to no avail.
Papas’ best lead in the case, is that he believes the Ex-Presidents are surfers. Based on what evidence he has gathered and the common route and timeline of their heists, pinning it strictly as a summer job, before they move onto their next destination. Plucky but arrogant Johnny Utah goes undercover by learning to ride the waves with the help of a young restaurant waitress Tyler (Lori Petty), who previously saved Utah after his first attempt almost ended fatally. She soon introduces him to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). An adrenaline junkie that’s always looking for his next rush, and figurehead of a ragtag group with similar lifestyle ideologies. Utah knows his best chance at cracking the case is to befriend Bodhi and his gang in order to break into the surfing community and track down the Ex-Presidents.
Towards the end of the 80’s, Hollywood ushered in a new form of action hero. Doing away with the beefcake, more muscle than memory stereotype. Die Hard gave us Bruce Willis. A balding, rough around the edges, dad bod rocking dude with a bad attitude, but completely served his purpose as a more natural, everyday man. Bigelow doubles down on this method with Keanu. Still relatively green in the industry back then, and having not appeared in an action role before but the offers came rolling in after this.
Say what you will about Keanu’s earlier acting talents, hell even in this he delivers every line with such bombastic enthusiasm. Lines like “I caught my first tube this morning, sir” after he and partner Papas are being routinely railed by their superior, and “lose something, brah?” in the films more serious climax. It’s the type of movie that gets audible laughs even if it was never the intention, but without Keanu this movie simply doesn’t work.
Whilst there’s a brewing romance between Johnny and Tyler that seems likely to play a crucial part later on in the movie, it’s the romance or ‘bromance’ between Johnny and Bodhi that this movie actually utilises best. Despite their lifestyles, the pair share a similar all or nothing approach to how they do things. Bodhi lives that surfer bro life. He doesn’t seem to work and spends the majority of his time on the beach, the ocean and in the air, when he’s jumping out of planes. Soaking up the sun and beers and longs to discover that one big wave.
Johnny is a typical college “quarterback punk”. After a knee injury causes him to re-evaluate his career prospects however, he peruses his law degree, ultimately landing him the job in law enforcement. He quickly succumbs to the charm of California living and takes a liking to the extreme sport of surfing, even proclaiming “I’m gonna learn to surf, or break my neck”. Johnny is committed to his undercover role that much, as he sets out to ensure they nail these guys once and for all.
It’s no real surprise to anyone that the action genre, especially in those days, was a male dominated world. Both in front of camera and behind the scenes as well. But that doesn’t stop Kathryn Bigelow brushing all that aside as she ironically understands the testosterone towering intensity, and male language better than many male directors that have adapted the formula. Sure she found better successes later in her career with the likes of ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, but it was Point Break that really introduced her talent to the world, and coming back to it is always a joy.
Bigelow establishes the action heavy intensity within the first frames. Jumping between Johnny Utah running a shooting range in the academy whilst getting drenched in the pouring rain, and the shots of a faceless surfer hitting his waves all to the preposterous sounds of a quintessential 90’s beat. Throughout there’s car chases, foot races, a couple of skydiving segments and plenty of gun fights to dip your feet into.
The 90’s had so much to offer in terms of action flicks. We had The Matrix (1999), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Total Recall (1990), Demolition Man (1993) and Mission: Impossible (1996) just to name a few, and it seems impossible to not rank Bigelow’s bombastic romp amongst the best of them.
You have Swayze being just perfectly Swayze. Keanu, Busey and lets not forget John C. McGinly (Scrubs, Office Space, Seven) hamming it up on every occasion they’re given, and a strong female character representative in Lori Petty. Point Break continues to remain a staple in the 90’s action genre, and dare I say sits highly above much of the competition in that era.