Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 “Point Break” was one of the great guilty pleasures of its day—a goofy crime-and-surfing saga that sent Keanu Reeves undercover as a neophyte FBI agent named Johnny Utah, who infiltrated a gang of bank robbers disguised with masks of presidents during their heists. The crooks were a bunch of anti-establishment beach daredevils headed by a Dave the Dude sort named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), who took Johnny into the fold but didn’t hesitate to frame him when it suited his purpose.
In narrative terms the picture was ludicrous—it gave Johnny a trick knee dating from his college football days that inevitably gave out just as he was about to catch up with Bodhi during a chase, and Bodhi’s crowd a gonzo counter-cultural vibe that was passé even at the time. But it developed a closeness (or bromance, if you prefer) between the leads that had more chemistry than the relationship between Johnny and Tyler, the gang gal played by Lori Petty, and Bigelow continued to show her chops as an action director. On a positive side note, it also featured a sequence in which Reeves was almost eaten by a lawn mower. Remember how Roger Ebert once explained the success of “Willard” by suggesting that people had been waiting for years to see Ernest Borgnine get devoured by rats? In short, the original “Point Break” was absurd fun.
Ericson Core’s remake isn’t. It’s not just that though it retains the characters’ names, it eschews the cheeky details that the first one abounded in, like Johnny’s trick knee. The female presence this time around is reduced to negligibility—Teresa Palmer’s love interest, now named Samsara, is so thinly drawn that even her ultimate fate is no matter of concern. And though Kurt Wimmer’s script posits a new motive behind the gang’s actions that’s frankly nutty, it makes the mistake of treating the explanation seriously. It thus completely loses the cheerfully loony tone of the original, replacing it with dutiful action-movie dourness. And while the big set-pieces are expertly staged and shot, they don’t generate the sense of gleeful abandon they’re obviously meant to.
The cascade of extravagant action sequences is explained by the change of the pop culture background from the California surfing community to that of extreme sports. Johnny (Luke Bracey, looking like a less distinctive version of Scott Speedman and even less emotive than Reeves) is shown in an explosive motorcross prologue freewheeling through the Arizona desert with a young friend (Max Thieriot)—a journey whose tragic end sends him back to school and eventually into the FBI. Seven years later, he convinces his boss Hall (Delroy Lindo) that a string of extraordinary thefts—one in which the crooks escaped by freefalling back to earth after robbing a treasury-department plane flying above Mexico, and another involving a diamond theft from the hundredth floor of a skyscraper, from which the perpetrators hang-glided away—are not just related, but are part of an effort to fulfill the Ozaki Eight—a series of “ordeals” prescribed by a deceased Japanese eco-guru as a means of helping to rectify man’s abuse of the natural world and provide help to the poor.
Convinced that the next ordeal will involve surfing a once-in-a-decade wave off the French coast (another quick nod to Bigelow’s film, after security footage showing the thieves wearing presidents’ masks during the plane heist), Johnny persuades Hall to send him there under the tutelage of gruff veteran agent Pappas (Ray Winstone). Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) rescues him after he’s swallowed by the wave both are trying to ride, and they quickly bond (after punching one another out in a tough-guy fistfight, obviously a rite of passage). Soon the two are wingsuit-flying off towering peaks and snowboarding down sheer mountainsides along with the other crew members, Grommet (Matias Varela), Roach (Clemens Schik) and Chowder (Tobias Santelmann)—who are, to tell the truth, rather hard to tell apart. Presumably these exploits are part of the ordeal sequence (which, in any event, is never fully explained), though there seems no attempt afterward to “give back” as Ozaki instructed through some charitable act.
Their bond breaks only when Bodhi insists on Johnny participating in the robbery (or destruction, really) of trucks filled with gold ore being transported from what appears to be a huge strip mine. Johnny reveals himself as a cop in a futile effort to prevent the crime and save lives, but still can’t bring himself to shoot Bodhi (no knee excuse this time, though). From this point the movie turns into a fairly conventional hunt-them-down scenario, culminating in a shootout at a mountaintop Italian bank that leaves lots of corpses behind, one of which we’re meant to care about but really don’t, and a long, incredible sequence of free-climbing at a waterfall deep in the Venezuelan forest. The epilogue is a bigger, less plausible repeat of the first movie’s ending.
This new “Point Break” has some points in its favor. One is the presence of Lindo and Winstone, who are almost always fun to watch even if they’re reciting terrible lines (Winstone actually has to say not once but twice, “Try not to get yourself killed, kid”). Lacey is simply dull, however (a lawnmower might have energized him), and Ramirez has zero charisma, leaving their coupling sadly undernourished. Reeves and Swayze, if the latter were still alive, would have nothing to fear from these two, any more than Peter Falk and Alan Arkin did from Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks in the equally misguided remake of “The In-Laws.” James Le Gros,from the original flick, does a cameo here as an FBI honcho.
What the movie does have going for it are those extreme sports sequences, which—especially in the 3D format, even it’s a conversion job—are extremely impressive. Cord served as his own cinematographer, and the footage, shot in some gorgeous locales, is as you-are-there, in-your-face as anything we’ve seen in documentaries on the subject like “X Games 3D,” while a trio of editors—Thom Noble, Gerald B. Greenberg and John Duffy—have stitched it together for maximum impact. Of course, the effectiveness of the action scenes has to be attributed in large measure to the visual effects and special effects crews (the two supervisors were John Nelson and Uli Nezher) and to the stunts team (coordinated by Ralf Haeger and Michael Rogers). But the result is nonetheless eye-catching.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on the action sequences only accentuates the flat, plodding quality of everything else in the movie—the clumsy plotting, the lame dialogue, the B-movie acting, the pedestrian direction, and the unimpressive production design (a shot of a shabby area of Paris—where we’re told “something is going to happen” the next day, an unfortunate reference given what recently occurred there—is dominated by the convenient presence of a burning car), not to mention a thoroughly generic score from Tom Holkenberg. In the end the picture seems like a collection of extreme-sport clips periodically interrupted by dreary exposition, just as they’d be interrupted by equally dreary commentary if they were shown on their natural home—cable TV.
“Point Break” is crammed with risible dialogue, but one line spoken by Hall to Utah is especially memorable as a mantra for the picture as a whole. “Ugly is what we do, son,” he says.