Friday, 13 March 2009

Point Break (1991)

Note: sometimes on Bullshit Movies we also use the word “bullshit” as a positive attribute. Like the slang way you might say a film is "so bullshit" as a way of describing how awesome it is.

Let’s just say it right now: Point Break is a modern classic. Like Top Gun, it was a hit at the cinemas upon release but its status as a piece of film has increased over time, and also like Top Gun, it can be appreciated both ironically and sincerely by jocks and cineastes alike. I’ve seen quotes from the film scribbled on the insides of cafe toilet walls (“Lawyers don’t surf” and “Back off, Warchild. Seriously” could be seen in the male toilets at Cafe 130s in Leederville) and it’s been referenced openly in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and subtly in David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express (there is a Pointe Break retirement home in the film). During the week, my ladyfriend Danica brought up her favourite moment in the film: the scene where Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, plays a drug dealer surfer who accidently gets his foot blown off in an FBI raid on his gang’s home and the resulting sweaty close-up of him screaming, which we agreed was pretty hilarious. Friends and acquaintances in high school would quote heavily from the film such as the scene where Warchild’s gang has ex-footballer turned FBI agent turned undercover surfer Keanu Reeves is surrounded on the beach and Keanu is playing it cool, saying “this is the part where you locals gang up on a yuppie wannabe like me” and we cut to Kiedis sing-scatting the line, “But that would be just a waste of time!” My friend Greg used to do a great impression of that moment. And then other kids on the schoolyard would speak emphatically about how awesome the scene was during the FBI raid where Keanu is attacked by a blonde naked surfer chick who was taking a shower when the door is kicked in and is thereby naked throughout the whole sequence. And then you have my sister Sarah who announced while I began to re-watch Point Break on DVD that “it’s the hottest that Keanu has ever looked in a movie,” which she said as the opening credits began with a rain-slicked Keanu firing a shotgun at paper targets while the director Kathryn Bigelow intercuts sun-lit, wave-heavy, slow-motion surfing footage, a winning combination that Sergei Eisenstein must have only dreamed about when theorising about the concept of montage back in the former Soviet Union.

For those who haven’t seen Point Break, it basically concerns a fresh-faced “blue-flamer” FBI agent from Quantico named Johnny Utah (Reeves) who is transferred to the L.A. division and partnered up with Pappas (Gary Busey), a pot-bellied wild card who has a theory that a quartet of successful bank-robbers called “The Ex-Presidents” who wear rubber masks of Presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Johnson, Carter) during their heists are actually surfers. Or as he helpfully says in the scene that was used in the trailers a lot, “The Ex-Presidents are SURFERS!” So Johnny Utah begins to surf and brings his surfboard into the squadroom which pisses off their angry chief John C. McGinley playing a variation of the role he would perfect in Scrubs.

“Have you boys achieved anything today?” McGinley yells.
“I caught my first tube... sir,” says Keanu.

What is fantastic about the film is the combination of elements. Keanu was working his way to leading man status at the time and still using his Bill & Ted “dude” voice, which is oddly compelling, particularly in comically dramatic scenes like where he starts yelling at Pappas to get him mad and motivated. You’ve got Busey in fine form, playing the wigged out comic relief doomed partner (much like the Jeff Daniels part in the later Keanu action flick, Speed), and he still sticks to the script and hadn’t turned into a parody of himself just yet. Then you have the bad guy, Bodhi, a character essayed by Patrick Swayze with beach blonde Kurt Cobain look and utilising the Warrior Poet ambience he brought to the movie Roadhouse. Yes, as Keanu becomes embroiled in the world of surfing, learning what the little dude who sold him a board said, which was that “surfing is the source, it’ll change your life”, he learns that the new buddies he plays beach football with and has wild parties with tin drum fires on the beach are actually a threat to the public (similar to what happens in The Lost Boys but with vampires instead of surfers). While there is a female love interest provided by Lori Petty (who I am still unsure about as actress, mainly because she played one of the most annoying characters ever in A League Of Their Own), the main romantic tension comes from the push-and-pull of Keanu falling under Swayze’s spell, attempting to resist his philosophical pursuit of “The Ride” and his “100% Pure Adrenaline” lifestyle. From The Book of Bodhi: “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you live.” Once both their ulterior identities are revealed to each other, the movie commences a cat and mouse game of mind-fucking that involves jumping out of a plane without knowing if your parachute is properly packed or robbing a bank without a mask.

Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break after the success of her rad low-budget contemporary vampire western flick, Near Dark. She began an association with James Cameron, which also led to a marriage that didn’t last, who produced Point Break (and also apparently rewrote the script) and her next film, Strange Days. She brings a great, advertising-influenced visual eye to the film including the impressive car-chase foot-chase sequence in the middle of the film, which kind of rips off Raising Arizona while providing a great visual metaphor for the law’s impotence and love’s frustration when Johnny Utah fires off his gun into the air as he can’t bring himself to kill the masked Bodhi. It’s the early 1990s as well so all the surfers look like they are caught between looking like extras in a Guns N Roses music video and preparing to audition for the arrival of Grunge. However, nothing can compare to the enigmatic showdown at the end where Hollywood places one Australian actor (Peter Phelps) in what looks like a Canadian location and a sign that says, “Bells Beach” to convince us that the film is happening in Australia, even though the cops at the end sound like New Zealanders on helium. Still, gotta love that “Fifty Year Storm” and Keanu telling Swayze “You gotta go down. It’s gotta be this way” while Swayze says stuff like “You can’t keep me locked up in a cage!” It’s a brilliantly goofy ending that updates the High Noon convention of throwing one’s badge away with an existential image of the sublime as Swayze hits the mammoth waves that he has been waiting his whole life to ride.

However, if you were worried that Hollywood might mess up a good thing with an unnecessary remake of Point Break, not to worry, they’ve gone old-school and decided upon an unnecessary sequel: Point Break Indo, which is to be directed by Speed’s Jan De Bont and that won’t feature Swayze or Reeves or even a tanned Tom Sizemore complaining about his shit surfer hairstyle. I think with that film we might be using "bullshit" in the negative sense...


dan said...

yes yes yes!

patrick swayze is a motherfucking warrior poet. why couldn't he have quit after this hilarious and awesome role?

i do love that stupid bit at the end when keanu throws his badge away.


Mitch said...

I used to love this movie as a kid.

For some reason, I thought Gary Busey's character was played by Nick Nolte. Easy mistake to make i suppose. He WAS gruff and wore a Hawaiian shirt.