' Cinema Romantico: Point Break

Monday, February 08, 2010

Point Break

With more people voting for me to not see either "The Blind Side" or "Edge of Darkness" on Super Bowl Sunday I decided to stay at home and watch one of director Kathryn Bigelow's (recent Oscar nominee for "The Hurt Locker") earliest efforts, "Near Dark", which I had never seen but always wanted to. But, of course, even though Netflix promised me the movie would arrive in the mail by Thursday, it still had not shown up in my mailbox by Saturday. (In a related story, I was so incensed by this turn of events I pondered on Saturday afternoon switching to Blockbuster online except - and I'm not making any of this up - on Saturday night I sat down to watch "District 9" with my friends John and Kristin who had received it from Blockbuster Online except when John pulled the disc out of the envelope, an envelope that clearly stated "District 9", he found a disc instead for...."9"! Yay! We could have lit out for the closest Blockbuster, of course, to exchange it except - oh, right! - Blockbuster Online and Netflix have driven every video rental store within a 2 mile radius of my apartment out of business! Now I hate you both.)


But fear not, loyal readers, for Cinema Romantico would not be deterred. So to on-demand I went and within seconds had tracked down "Point Break", Kathryn Bigelow's action feature from the summer of '91 and rewatched it for the first time in, God, I don't know, 15 years, maybe, making Super Bowl Sunday, as it should be, all about TESTESTERONE!!!!! (Plus, I watched the movie in soft pants while indulging in a few pre-Super Bowl brewskies.)

In "Point Break" our main character is the sparklingly named Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), a once great quarterback at Ohio State who flamed out with after an injury in the Rose Bowl. (For you college football geeks reading along this means that Reeves has played characters whose key Incident In The Past has taken place in both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl - in "The Replacements". He's had a better career than most actual college quarterbacks!) Now he is a hotshot rookie FBI agent in L.A. We first see him getting grilled by his superior, played by John C. McGinley in an early pre-cursor to his role on "Scrubs". He gets to holler lines like "I guess we must have ourselves an a--hole shortage" and "This is not some job flipping burgers at the local drive-in!"

Johnny Utah gets saddled with a hawing partner named Pappas (who is introduced to Utah for the first time through the most ancient of devices - badmouthing Utah directly to his face when he doesn't realize it). He is played by Gary Busey. Pappas, you see, is on the trail of a quartet of bank robbers nicknamed The Ex Presidents since, as you "Point Break" fans no doubt know, they all wear masks of Ex Presidents - Reagan, Carter, Nixon, LBJ - when executing their flawless heists. Ah, but Pappas has a theory. A tan line and just a hint of surfboard wax left at the scene has led him to suspect The Ex Presidents double as surfers. Busey, of course, in recent years has become synonomous with CRAZY!!! At the time of "Point Break" this wasn't the case. Yet watching "Point Break" with Busey's well known craziness in the back of your mind actually assists in enhancing this theory of Pappas. You believe even more that he would believe these bank robbers are surfers. Funny how time works.

Everyone else at the FBI, of course, thinks this theory is nuts which, of course, means it is 100% correct. But how to take down surfing bank robbers? Send Johnny Utah out into the wild waters of the Pacific with a pink surfboard, that's how, where within moments his life will be saved by a comely young woman named Tyler (Lori Petty). He convinces her to teach him how to surf, bringing to mind those lilting lyrics of The Beach Boys: "We could ride the surf together / While our love would grow." (One funny thing to note is a scene where Keanu Reeves is supposed to "act" like a stoned surfer to get information and you realize he is not "acting" any differently than he does at any other point in the movie. Ah, Keanu.)

Oh, their love will grow. Fast. But Utah will also find himself developing just a bit of a man crush on a mystical surfer friend of Tyler's named Bodhi. Bodhi calls people "compadre", laments surfers who don't "get the spiritual side of it", and occassionally talks like some sort of California-cated Sphinx: "Fear causes hesitation and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true." And did I mention he was played by Patrick Swayze? How could you not have a man crush on this guy!


Too bad he also happens to be the leader of the Ex Presidents. Ain't that just how the cookie crumbles? So knowing that we also know that eventually Utah and Bodhi will come face to face (perhaps more than once) with weapons drawn. But then golly gee! I've spent four paragraphs discussing the plot of "Point Break"! And this is a movie of action! Heart stopping, pulse pounding action that involves automatic weapons, fisticuffs, karate, sky diving, a raid on the wrong house that ends with a tete-a-tete in front of a whirring lawn mower (why did that neighbor keep mowing his lawn when a gunfight broke out one house over?!) and Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers accidentally shooting himself in the foot, and references to the mythical "Fifty Year Storm" which, as it must, is where the movie will end.

The most staggering setpiece of the film is a footchase through a heavily populated neighborhood that will go through houses, over fences, past unwieldy dogs, on and on, and all done with handheld camera. You could probably make a valid argument this scene was an inspiration for some of the endless walking and running handheld work of the Greengrass-made "Bourne" films - the finest action work of the 00's in my book which means I'm really saying something here.

One thing to note about the film nearly twenty years later is its lack of conventional action sequences. Sure, there are few times when the bullets fly and so on and so forth but I am fairly certain nary a thing blew up. When something catches Bigelow's fancy - like the first skydiving scene in the film - she really stays with it and revels in it. I always find those choices by action directors to be refreshing. As ludicrous as the movie is she remains very patient with the material.

Until the third act, that is, when the story really gets ludicrous (I mean if Utah knows that Bodhi knows he's an FBI agent why in the hell would he get into that plane?) and then to sugarcoat it Bigelow just ramps it up and goes and goes. In the last thirty minutes the film headbangs from the first skydiving sequence to a bank robbery gone awry to another skydiving sequence (which finds Utah leaping out of a plane sans parachute) to the final showdown in the midst of "The Fifty Year Storm".

Could anyone have possibly guessed "Point Break" would ever have such a legacy? Could anyone have possibly guessed one of the great film spoofs in film history would come via "Point Break" when 2007's "Hot Fuzz" took one more of its more "poignant" moments to task? Could anyone have possibly guessed that a concept play based on "Point Break" (which I was going to see in Minneapolis with my friend Ashley until a brutal snowstorm prevented my making it) would ever become both a reality and a force of nature? Could anyone have possibly guessed that nearly twenty years after the summer of "Terminator 2" and "Point Break" James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow would be going head to head, not at the box office but at the Academy Awards? Could anyone have possibly guessed Lori Petty, who in the wake of this and 1992's "A League Of Their Own" seemed to have such a promising career, would one day star in "The Karate Dog"? Could I have possibly guessed sitting in the backseat of my father's car that summer afternoon that the same actor who played a character named Roach in "Point Break" (James Legros) would one day also star in my third favorite movie?

Could anyone have possibly guessed that Ping Wu, who turns up for the briefest of moments as an unnamed police dispatcher, would go on to play Ping, the Chinese delivery guy Elaine Benes accidentally hits when she jaywalks leading to a lawsuit from Cheryl "The Terminator" Fong? I mention it because like Jerry walked in on George to find him getting emotional over the end of "Home Alone" ("The old man got to me"), well, I felt the slightest of pulls on the ol' heartstrings when Bodhi paddles out into the mega-surf at the end to meet his fate, to go on "the ultimate ride", and I really, really shouldn't have.

No, no, no, I didn't cry. But I felt the tiniest bit of something. I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm older and over the years have become a devout romantic. Maybe it's because Patrick Swayze passed away last year. Maybe it's because I was drinking in the afternoon. Who knows? But I dug it. It's like Bodhi says so mystically, "It's not tragic to die doing what you love." I only hope, compadre, that when my time comes I can recognize it, crank "The Fame Monster" and go out shaking my ass.

1 comment:

Daryl said...

Never be ashamed of loving this movie. Love strikes when you least expect it. That's why you love "RoboCop," "Demon Knight," and "That Thing You Do" so much. ...You love those, don't you?