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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #197: Point Break

Kathryn Bigelow is a director who did not so much break the glass ceiling as shoot her way through it. Her filmography rivals the manliest of action directors in Hollywood and in some cases surpasses them in terms of quality and style. Point Break (1991) her most commercially successful film to date, features amazing stunts, shootouts, and plenty of shots of young people at the beach. Having Gary Busey as a scenery (and meatball sandwich) chewing FBI agent certainly did not hurt either.    

Since Point Break came out in at the beginning of the 1990s I did not go see it because at the time I was the target audience for Aladdin. However Bigelow’s film was not only a commercial hit, but it also gained a cult audience over the years and was eventually considered one of the best action movies of that decade. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost certainly thought so, which is why their action-movie homage Hot Fuzz has two characters watch Point Break and also recreate one of its most famous scenes later on. To find out why these guys were so crazy about that movie I finally rented a copy while at the University of Sherbrooke around 2008. The DVD had a lot of interesting information about the stunts and characters, but I ended up thinking those are actually the best parts of the movie, while the story as a whole has a major flaw.

Subtlety is not the word of the day in the world of Point Break, where Keanu Reeves’ rookie FBI agent has the ultimate cool name, Johnny Utah. John C. Reilly as agent Harp has the typical role of hard-ass superior who is all about getting to work on time and following the rules. Busey on the other hand is much more, well, Busey, as Utah’s veteran partner Angelo Papas. Their assignment is to track down a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents who get in and out of banks quickly and efficiently while wearing masks of Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Johnson. These robbers are clearly having a good time as the Nixon one loves to say, “I am not a crook” while wearing the mask.

Papas correctly deduces the robbers are also surfers so Utah goes undercover at the California beach, much to Harp’s dismay who is less than thrilled at the idea of one of his agents being paid to learn how to surf. Despite not knowing anything about surfing, Utah eventually develops a love for the thrill he gets from being out in the ocean thanks to the teachings of surfer girl Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty). By the time he has infiltrated the gang and their charismatic leader Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), Utah not only sympathizes with their lifestyle, but also cannot bring himself to shoot Bhodi when the moment comes.

This is where the movie loses me and it’s also where the first Fast and Furious movie lost me. Sure, the Bhodi character comes off as a great friend and his willingness to live on the edge is impressive to say the least. This is a guy who surfs giant waves in the morning and goes skydiving in the afternoon. However when he says the bank robberies are all about rebelling against the system, I am sorry, but I am going to side with Harp on this one and yell at Utah to do his job. Bhodi is not some great philosopher who is sticking it to the man; he is a surfer who is too lazy to get a boring like everyone else so he robs banks to fund his adrenalin addiction endangering the people in the bank. Utah shouldn’t hesitate to shoot him.

Story aside, Point Break manages to keep the viewer’s adrenalin pumping from beginning to end. In addition to the breath taking surfing and skydiving sequences, Bigelow expertly directs one of the best foot chase sequences ever recorded, which indeed deserved to be parodied in Hot Fuzz.  

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