With a dreaded remake due this Christmas, let’s look back at 1991’s action classic Point Break, and to a time before Kathryn Bigelow exclusively made films about American war crimes.
Executive produced by Bigelow’s then-husband James Cameron, Point Break follows FBI agent Johnny Utah, played by actor, musician and erstwhile pasta shop manager Keanu Reeves. Another badass named John(ny), he must infiltrate a surfer gang who rob banks wearing rubber masks of former presidents. And there’s only one way to stop them: by learning to surf. Cue montage!
Going undercover as a surfer dude (the role Keanu was born to play), Johnny befriends adrenaline junky Bodhi, played with leonine hair and wild-man eyes by Patrick Swayze. He does pretty much all his own stunts, from heart-pumping surfing scenes to exhilarating sky-diving sequences. The action is kinetic, frenetic and visceral; there are white-knuckle chases, brutal shootouts and a bit where “Ronald Reagan” throws a dog at Keanu Reeves. It’s really good.
The screenplay, too, is ridiculous. Generally in action movies, words are pretty perfunctory; a way of getting from one set piece to the next as simply as possible. But here, W. Peter Iliff’s dialogue is funny, quotable and as salty as the sea – IMDb counts 105 fucks. One of Keanu’s first lines is: “Sir, I take the skin off chicken.” I don’t remember the context.
Donald Peterman’s gorgeous cinematography also makes the film look infinitely better than most action movies nowadays – though Reeves looks exactly the same. There are good performances from Gary Busey, Lori Petty and John C. McGinley (the C stands for shouty). There’s even a cameo from Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. It’s that movie.
At its core, the film is about friendship – just like Hot Fuzz, in which this movie features heavily. But it’s also about topless surfer dudes, testosterone and bad rock music. You can watch it as a high-octane actioner, a wacky police comedy or (most likely) a homoerotic thriller. Like so many good thrillers, the hero and villain are two sides of the same coin, and the lines are blurred between good, bad and (in this case) rad.
Described by comedian Greg Proops as “the Citizen Kane of surf movies”, Point Break is completely over the top and quite mad. With its memorable characters, crazy dialogue and insane action, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun. It has a heady, stoned quality, and a great scene where Keanu Reeves has to incongruously hold a surfboard while being disciplined, because it won’t fit in his car or something. But Bigelow never lets the pace drop, giving the film an almighty injection of adrenaline; it moves like a gunshot and crashes like the waves. “Vaya con Dios!”