I’m at the age where I can’t help but to “go old dude.” My kids hear it most. I’m particularly ornery when the subject is music. There have been many an evening when the walls of the Dell household strained to contain the bellows emanating from my rhythmically impacted bowels. No matter how large a percentage of the dictionary I exhaust to explain my point, it is still but a singular point: The garbage you kids listen to can’t compare to the garbage I used to listen to. In other words, though my character, outlook on life, creativity, and ahem, vocabulary have grown exponentially over the passing of decades, I am unable to do anything other than start a disproportionate number of my sentences the way my parents and grandparents started theirs, with the phrase, “When I was your age.”
The bias toward pop culture relics older than my eldest child extends to movies. Most of my favorites are products of the late twentieth century, all trans fats forming a glob of empty calories. One such delectable piece of junk food is 1991’s Point Break. If you flip it over and read the label you might actually feel your teeth begin to rot. Water might be the first ingredient, but it’s salted, directly from the ocean. Even worse, the next three are sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose, or sugar, sugar, and sugar. Red dye 40 make the list, too. What I’m saying is, my sister, a highly dedicated personal trainer, would literally try to kill me if I brought this as a dish to one our family gatherings. My only defense would be, “But sis, it tastes so good.”
That great tastes is what keeps us Generation X types coming back to Point Break. Dudes of my age group are especially susceptible to its charms. After all, it’s a candy-coated shot of adrenaline.
There is a plot, if you care about that sort of thing. Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) was a big-time college football player until he blew out his knee. With a career in the NFL out of reach, he joins the FBI and arrives for duty in sunny California. Soon, he convinces his irritable boss to let him go undercover to crack the uncrackable case, a string of bank robberies perpetrated by a group of guys only known as The Ex-Presidents. They’re called this because of the masks they wear during their crimes. Johnny puts two and two together and figures out these guys are surfers, so off to the beach we go. Sure enough, he falls in with the crew responsible, and of course, meets a girl. Fun ensues.
Part of that fun is watching Keanu Reeves play a role that’s perfect for him. I’m on the record saying he’s a terrible actor. I’ve ridiculed him a time, or two, on this very site. I must admit, given the right role, he’s pretty good. The right role is that of a guy who is genuinely baffled by the world around him. Here, he’s a guy who’s never surfed before, has no clue about surf culture, but just happens to be about the right age to not seem too suspicious for a guy who suddenly wants to
A bigger part of the fun is an electrifying Patrick Swayze as Bodhi, the leader/zen-master of the surfers. Yes, I’ve seen Ghost, Road House, and most of Dirty Dancing (sorry, just haven’t been able to sit through it all at once). This is the best I’ve seen him. He doesn’t just steal scenes, completely overshadows everyone else on the screen. His charisma cascades from the screen. As it does, the spiritual mumbo-jumbo he’s speaking so much of has you believing he might ride a wave directly into your living room. His Bodhi is one of those people who thinks they have it all figured out. More dangerous than that, he has the power to make other people think he’s got it all figured out. Swayze brings this across so well, he makes Bodhi one of the most enduring villains of the 1990s.
Lori Petty turns in a fun performance as Tyler, the love interest. Eventually, she becomes the damsel in distress, but magically, she never seems like a girl who can’t take care of herself. We realize she can do that, and then some. John C. McGinley and Gary Busey show up occasionally to light up the screen for a few brief moments. Busey’s character, Johnny’s partner Pappas, is the comic relief, and sets up one of the biggest reminders that this film is now a quarter century old. While on a stakeout, Pappas sends Johnny to a shop around the corner from them to get him a couple of meatball subs. Johnny not only gets the two subs for Pappas, he gets himself a chicken salad sandwich, and a drink for each of them. The price for all that? $7.84. When I heard that, I about fell off my couch.
The other huge reminder of the era which birthed Point Break are all the organic stunts. The fact many of them play out in the ocean, or in mid-air in the case of the big late action sequence adds to the movie’s charm. Some nice straightforward action scenes make it irresistible. It’s the type of movie that us old farts, if we’re being honest, had a hard time believing was directed by a woman. However, there’s the name, Kathryn Bigelow, right at the beginning. In the years since, she’s become an Oscar winning director, winning for The Hurt Locker, a war movie, no less. If us old farts have grown, we now realize the content of a film doesn’t dictate the gender of its director. Back in ’91? We didn’t know any better. Regardless, we were thankful someone gave us the cinematic equivalent of, well, whatever you can make out of Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, salt water, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose. It seems like an easy recipe to follow. Sure, you might not be able to use Swayze or Reeves, but the rest is simple enough to guarantee an entertaining dish. That’s what I thought. Then I watched the 2015 remake of Point Break.
Right away, this new version gives us signs it got to my screen by draining every ounce of life from its source material. Instead of being injured before really making the big time, Johnny (Luke Bracey) is now a world famous Extreme Athlete. What would make such a guy leave that behind and join the FBI? Of course, his best friend has to die while the two of them are attempting the most ridiculous stunt possible. Okay, fine. Like in the original, he convinces his bosses to let him go undercover to catch the guys committing impossible crimes. Instead of being confined to the beaches of California, this is a worldwide affair. These guys aren’t just robbing banks, either. The first job we hear of them pulling is of a jewelry store at the top of a skyscraper and escaping by parachute. Johnny travels the globe with them doing one crazy thing after another. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
There’s no fun to be found anywhere, in fact. This movie takes itself so SERIOUSLY it’s like a doctor coming to let you know you’re in the final stages of cancer, and so is your dog, while holding a stack of business cards from local funeral homes. The people responsible for this film, and I’ll point my finger at director Ericson Core, took the ’91 flick, extracted every drop of humor, and multiplied the crackpot spiritual angle about a thousand times. There is not one piece of the remake that isn’t a borderline depressed version of the original.
It doesn’t help that our new Johnny is not an outsider to the world he inhabits. He fully understands Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez) and his quest before ever meeting him. Almost from the moment he hears about the crimes that have been pulled off, he knows exactly what the bad guys are trying to do. There is no sense of wonder on his part, nor ours. His boss knows Johnny knows this world, and therefore, trusts Johnny’s judgement and ability to solve the case. This removes one of the conflicts of the first film. In that movie, Johnny’s boss doubted every word that came out of his mouth. He seemed to harbor a deep resentment for Johnny. This made them have a confrontational, and interesting, relationship throughout the film. Delroy Lindo mans the role of Johnny’s boss, this time. Lindo is a fine actor, but given little to do other than tell Johnny ‘go get ‘em.’
The new Bodhi doesn’t inspire any awe, either. He lacks the charisma to make us believe a group of people would follow him all over the world doing the craziest things possible. We in the audience certainly aren’t drawn to him. Instead of Swayze’s indelible king of the beach who is a special brand of crazy, we get a generic baddie we forget about as soon as the movie ends.
As mentioned above, there is also a love story in the original Point Break. Like everything else, we have a good time watching the couple in question, Johnny and Tyler, interact. She knows Bodhi, and introduces Johnny to him, but she’s not a follower of his. She’s an ex-girlfriend who is still friends with Bodhi, hangs in the same circles, but clearly thinks most of what comes out of his mouth is garbage. Like everything else in the new version, the love interest this time around is void of personality. She hardly seems like a person, at all, to be honest. She clearly belongs to Bodhi, right from the outset. She also speaks cryptically and feels like a lame twenty-first century version of a sixties flower child. As if to drive home the point she’s more ethereal being than actual human, her name isn’t Tyler, it’s Samsara (Teresa Palmer). Out of curiosity, I looked up the word samsara. According to Google, it is a Hindu word meaning the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound. Of course, it does. That’s a clear sign of how self-important this movie is. She couldn’t just be Tyler, not a significant enough name. She has to have this deep, symbolic moniker. Even the new Pappas (Ray Winstone) is a drip. Gary Busey gave us laughs as he aided Johnny. Winstone's version is a grumpy curmudgeon. Sigh.
At least the movie has lots of stunts, right? Maybe. They are great stunts with a creativity far beyond its predecessor. I’ve read they were all organically done. I suspect shenanigans on that one. Whether they were or weren’t is less problematic than how joyless they feel. Watching the original we get the feeling the people on the screen are having a blast, regardless of the stakes. This creates exhilaration in the viewer. That is missing from the new stunts because each moment is purported to be a battle for the souls of the characters and every stunt is merely a box checked on the list of things needed for salvation. Instead of letting the story naturally come to the point where we understand what hangs in the balance, it spends its entire runtime screaming about it. The original Point Break might be junk food, but it’s an irresistible dish, the right amount of sweet and salty to tickle the palate. The remake is the dish sitting next to it that we all know is better for us, with all its vitamins and nutrients, but avoid because it’s dry and flavorless.