Point Break: Pure Adrenaline Edition
October 17, 2006
Generally panned by critics upon its release, Point Break (1991) has gone on to enjoy something of a minor cult following among action film fans who enjoy its breathlessly choreographed action sequences involving daring bank heists, car chases, skydiving and, of course, surfing – one of the film’s most important selling points. The film came along after Patrick Swayze’s phenomenal success with Ghost (1990) and he went completely in the opposite direction with this film. Point Break also proved to be a warm-up for Keanu Reeves who would become a full-fledged action hero with Speed (1994) a few years later.
The FBI are baffled by a string of robberies committed by a group calling themselves the Ex-Presidents, thieves who disguise themselves by wearing masks of former United States Presidents: Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Enter the clean-cut Johnny Utah (Reeves), fresh from the academy and assigned to veteran cop and all around burn out Angelo Pappas (Busey). The veteran agent has a crazy theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers when they aren’t bank robbers and he convinces Utah to go undercover as a surfer so that he can get close to this tight-knit group.
Unfortunately, Utah has zero surfing skills and nearly drowns before cute, tomboy surfer girl (Petty) rescues him. He manages to convince her to teach him how to surf and she unwittingly acts as his contact to the exclusive surfing clique. She also introduces Utah to Bodhi (Swayze), the ultimate alpha male surfer/adrenaline junkie in search of the ultimate ride. Pretty soon Utah figures out that Bodhi and his buddies are actually the Ex-Presidents, but has to catch them in the act first.
Point Break trots out and downright revels in stereotypes: Utah is the all-American good guy, Pappas is the burn out cop and they are constantly being chewed out by their jerk-off boss (McGinley) for their screwball antics. Surprisingly, it’s Swayze’s Zen master/surfer/bank robber that doesn’t fall into an easy stereotype and comes across as the most interesting, charismatic character in the entire movie. And you have to give the credit to Swayze and his oddly fascinating performance. There is a nice scene where he tells Utah his philosophy of surfing, “It’s a state of mind. It’s that place where you lose yourself and find yourself.” We find ourselves rooting not for Reeves’ bland FBI agent but Swayze’s thrillseeking surfer.
The surfing sequences are beautifully shot with the camera right there in the water with the surfers riding the waves as Bigelow attempts to convey what it is like to be out there riding a wave and the euphoric feeling that one gets doing it. The sequences set a precedent for the way surfing was captured in a fictional film that wasn’t surpassed until Blue Crush (2002).
Ever since Near Dark (1987), Kathryn Bigelow has shown an aptitude for well-choreographed action sequences but nothing on the level of what she would accomplish in Point Break. First up, is the raid on the red herring bank robbers that Bigelow expertly orchestrates by first building the tension as she establishes all the combatants and then the inevitable explosion of action that culminates in an exciting struggle over the blades of lawnmower. This is just warm-up however, for the next action sequence where Utah catches the Ex-Presidents robbing a bank and chases their leader on foot after an exciting car chase that anticipates an even more daringly choreographed chase scene in Strange Days (1995).
Point Break is the epitome of a guilty pleasure: to dumb to defend rationally but with action sequences too cool to dismiss totally. It’s a big, loud comic book of a movie and it knows it and has the conviction to go for it. But is it worth purchasing on DVD if you already own a copy?
First up are eight deleted scenes that include more footage of Utah trying to surf. We also see him get more grief from his boss for his undercover work. There are other little bits of excised footage that doesn’t really amount to all that much.
“It’s Make or Break” is a retrospective featurette. The initial idea was surfers who rob banks. Originally, Charlie Sheen and Johnny Depp were approached to play Utah but when Bigelow came on board she fought for Keanu Reeves even though the studio didn’t see him as an action star. Busey, Petty and Swayze all contribute new interviews for this DVD and talk about their experiences making the movie. Everyone praises Bigelow’s action film instincts and what she brought to the movie.
“Ride the Wave” examines the spirituality of surfing. The ocean is a double-edged sword – at once very beautiful but also very dangerous. This extra also takes a brief look at the surfer culture.
“Adrenaline Junkies” examines the exciting stunts staged in the movie. It also takes a look at thrillseekers who love to push the envelope. Like his character, Swayze was into skydiving but the studio did not want him to do it. However, if you look at the first skydiving sequence, he really jumped out of the plane!
“On Location: Malibu” is a more light-hearted extra as two of the Ex-Presidents (who were actual surfers) John Philbin and Bojesse Christopher take us on a mini-tour of key locations in Malibu used in the movie. They crack jokes and reminisce about key scenes.
Also included are three trailers and a behind-the-scenes stills gallery.