POINT BREAK: Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1991) Fox Home Video
I miss Patrick Swayze – not only the actor, but the man, for his genuineness, sensitivity, pureness of heart and spirit, but most of all – his compassion; all, virtues that emanated from the screen with the added verve of his megawatt appeal as a Hollywood he-man and hunk du jour. There really was not another like him in the late 80’s, and likely never to be one again in the movies – period! We lost Patrick far too early to pancreatic cancer in 2009, age 57. And while Swayze’s looks had, by then, departed him, his infectious personality and ‘never say die’ desire to beat the disease that claimed him was, until those terrible final moments, paramount among his endearing qualities. Swayze came to us first as the stud, then as the ambitious star, and finally, as the all-around solid citizen, unaffected by Hollywood or celebrity. That Hollywood tried to manipulate this image to suit its own end – namely, make even more money off Swayze’s built-in persona – was, in hindsight, to their own misfortune as the actor’s range was clearly distilled into playing the righteous leading man.
Swayze doesn’t really get to do that in Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (1991) – shorn of his Southern charm and gallantry, his tresses bleached and streaked blonde, dumbing down his intuitive intelligence to adopt a surfer dude’s ‘what me worry’ attitude, further obfuscated by a faux villainous streak to perform harrowing robberies in the bold light of day. So, it is really saying a lot that Swayze, despite being miscast and meant to be upstaged by Keanu Reeve’s cocky and virtuous FBI man, Johnny Utah, instead, manages to emerge from under the sea foam of Point Break as the guy we are all rooting for, and, in the end, have the most empathy toward. Apathy is about the only emotion Reeves’ arrogant G-man is owed. Based on a story by Rick King and W. Peter Illiff, Point Break is a rather turgid crime/actioner, since to have found its cult following. Originally bought by Columbia Studios, the project languished for a brief period, was then green lit, then canceled, leaving producer, Peter Abrams to watch in disbelief as half-constructed sets were slated for the wrecking ball. Enter executive producer, James Cameron and his professional partner, Kathryn Bigelow with a decided interest and a very lucrative deal at 2oth Century-Fox. Together, this triumvirate of creative minds began to re-conceive Point Break as a high-octane summer blockbuster, heavily to delve into the Californian subculture of hardcore surfers and their ‘beach bunny’ groupies.
Given the formidable roster of talent behind Point Break, the final results are curiously out of sync. Fresh from his megawatt success in Dirty Dancing (1987) Patrick Swayze’s career had hit a snag – 1989’s Roadhouse (a shameless guilty pleasure in which Swayze is poured into his outfits and flexes and fights his way as a tough-as-nails bouncer), - then, again, the big time with Ghost (1990, and the one for which he is fondly remembered helping Demi Moore fondle a wet clay sculpture). Herein, Swayze is surf junkie, Bodhi, sporting that ‘moon doggy’ glow and haircut with, decidedly, a death wish. Together with his band of cronies, Bodhi robs banks in his spare time to pay for their adrenaline rushes on the waves. The hit squad’s gimmick is that they sport masks of former presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson while looting in the greater Los Angeles area. Meanwhile at the FBI, Agent Pappas (Gary Busey) has a hunch the timeline of the robberies coincides with high tide. Ergo, the robbers belong to that rare sect who worship surfing as a sort of warped religious experience rather than as mere past time. Pappas does not have much luck convincing his superior, the foul-mouthed and utterly arrogant, Ben Harp (John C. McGinley). But newbie, Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), primed and too full of himself to make anything but a mess of any situation, sincerely believes Pappas’ theory bears further investigation.
Utah takes to the beach but is a complete failure on his first attempt to cut an impressive figure in the water. Nearly drowning, Utah is saved by Tyler (Lori Petty), a surfer chick who works at a seaside greasy spoon. Cribbing from the FBI’s dossier on Tyler – to reveal she lost her parents in a plane crash - Utah feeds Tyler a line about wanting to learn to surf after his parents died in a car wreck. Understandably moved by his story, Tyler introduces Utah to Bodhi. A mutual – if rather bizarre – respect blossoms. Tyler and Utah become lovers. Bodhi introduces Utah to surfing’s counterculture. Unfortunately, Utah learns too late Bodhi is his man. Having already figured out Utah is a federal agent (Utah is fairly transparent in his ‘undercover’ work), Bodhi forces Utah to take part in their next bank robbery or Tyler will die. The robbery goes bad and a few of Bodhi’s men are picked off in the confrontation with police. Suspecting Utah has gone to the other side, Harp places him under arrest. However, Pappas frees Utah and together the two make for a showdown with Bodhi at the airport where Pappas is murdered by one of Bodhi’s men, Roach (James LeGros) but not before Pappas also fatal wounds Roach – tit for tat and an eye for an eye. Indeed, the whole of Point Break has a very ‘old testament’ feel to it. Bodhi forces Utah into the plane and after flying over Mexico, Bodhi, Roach and Johnny parachute into the desert. Bodhi frees Tyler to be with Utah before escaping to relative safety. Having previously told Utah of ‘the ultimate storm’ – a set of ideal surfing conditions along the Australian coast – Utah bides his time to make his arrest. However, at the last minute, Bodhi convinces Utah to let him have one more ‘ride’ on the waves. Realizing Bodhi is asking for permission to commit suicide, Utah releases him from custody to meet his fate at the end of the ultimate adrenaline rush, on his own terms.
Point Break is hardly perfect entertainment. Its super-charged action sequences are buttressed by some lethally boring melodrama that pivot on a flawed romance between Utah and Tyler. The surfing subculture narrative spirals into a seemingly endless sequence of drug parties and touch football games, expertly photographed by Donald Peterman and back lit by bonfire. Alas, the screen teems with angry, self-loathing men on testosterone overdrive, playing too fast and too loose with their own self-preservation. This premise wears itself out about midway through the movie, leaving us with one mindless action set-up after the next to fill our imaginations and run time for the remainder. Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi is perhaps the most perfectly realized character in the piece. Again, its Swayze’s built-in charisma that sells the character, transforming it from just another cardboard cutout sandwiched between the surfing sequences and gun play. Alas, Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah is about as leaden and stultified as movie heroes get. He reads most of his lines as though looking into a mirror with cue cards MacTac-ed to his forehead. In the final analysis, Point Break breaks a cardinal rule of the action/thriller; zooming along to its inevitable conclusion with more thugs than thrills.
Fox Home Video’s Blu-Ray incarnation easily bests their previously released standard ‘Pure Adrenaline Edition.’ Colors are not as punchy as one might expect, but fine detail is greatly improved. There is a smoothly satisfying texture to the image while maintaining its razor sharpness. Flesh tones appear nature. Black levels are deep and solid. There are three audio mixes - in 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 4.0 Dolby Surround. They all roughly sound the same. Featurettes are a direct import from the aforementioned standard DVD including; ‘It’s Make or Break’, ‘Ride the Wave’, ‘Adrenaline Junkies’ and ‘On Location: Malibu.’ There are also several brief deleted scenes (not remastered), a stills gallery and theatrical trailer on tap. Bottom line: Point Break is an ill-conceived actioner that rests on the laurels of Patrick Swayze’s screen persona to carry the brunt. Adding Keanu Reeves here will likely up the ante in male eye candy for some, but the picture never entirely comes together as it should. There are better movies out there starring these two actors (in Reeves’ case, I use this term very liberally!). Judge and buy accordingly.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)