Point Break (1991)

30 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

A young FBI hotshot is on the investigation of a series of bank robberies, in which the robbers wear rubber masks that resemble the Ex-Presidents of the United States (Reagan, Nixon, Johnson, and Carter, not in that order of course). He believes that they might be surfers because one of the robbers has a tan line. So he goes undercover as a budding surfer and falls in with a group of adrenaline junkies who may turn out to be the robbers he’s after.

When you hear the plot for “Point Break,” you’d probably think of it as a spoof of action movies, but you’d be wrong. The movie is taken as seriously as it could be taken, and it’s an effective thriller with a theme of self-discovery and some breathtaking action sequences.

Keanu Reeves is the hero Johnny Utah. He’s a former Rose Bowl star with a bum knee. Now, he’s an FBI agent assigned in Los Angeles to get on the case of the Ex-Presidents’ robberies. The robbers leave no clues behind, but Johnny’s partner Pappas (Gary Busey) notices a tan line on one of the robbers when he watches a surveillance tape of a robbery. Also, a strand of hair is found and after analyzing it, Pappas observes that the strand was polluted with the same hair gel sold on a popular surfing beach. He states, “The Ex-Presidents are surfers!”

So, Johnny goes undercover and learns how to surf in order to get closer to anyone who seems interesting. That’s when he meets Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the most extreme of his pack of surfers. Johnny also falls in love with Bodhi’s ex-girlfriend (Lori Petty). It becomes clear that they rob banks to support their surfing. Bodhi puts Johnny under his spell and explains to him why surfing and other extreme activities are so important to him. He also explains how he would like to die—by riding a wave driven by a winter storm.

Here we have a tale of a young cop who falls in with a different crowd than who he would usually hang out with. He starts to like his second life of fun and danger. It’s a great seduction story. But also in this movie is a lot of action. We get a footchase all over Santa Monica (through backyards, living rooms, and alleys) and two skydiving sequences. One sequence shows tension in which Johnny’s cover is blown and Bodhi packs his chute. The other is a great action scene in which Johnny becomes so mad he jumps out of a plane without a parachute, grabs onto a person who has one, and puts a gun to his head, threatening him to pull the chute.

Director Kathryn Bigelow is an interesting director for this material. It’s amazing how she directs these action sequences, but even more amazing how she puts the characters in them as realistically as humanly possible. We get to know these characters in the midst of the action. “Point Break” isn’t just a movie about cops and robbers. It’s simply a movie about a young cop who is seduced by a new lifestyle and questions his own values while trying to catch a possible robber.

It all leads down to the big ending in which everything that has been shown before has become meaningful and effective. I will not give it away, but I will say that “Point Break” does not end at the point where you would expect it to.

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