There may be no more pointless 2015 release than Point Break, a remake of the 1991 Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze extreme sports saga opening on Christmas Day.
This isn’t because the film itself is necessarily bad—its quality is currently unknown, since it’s not being screened for critics (though that usually isn’t a good sign)—but because its source material cannot, in any way, shape or form, be improved upon. As rightly lionized by Edgar Wright’s 2007 Hot Fuzz, the original Point Break is the ne plus ultra of ‘80s-‘90s action cinema, embodying the exaggerated style, swagger and bromantic spirit of the finest testosterone-y fantasies. In terms of both aesthetics and plotting, it straddles a fine line between gung-ho thrills and absurd humor with a skill that sets it apart from its numerous predecessors (most notably, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious). With the steroidal muscularity of a weightlifter and the spiritual ethos of the Dalai Lama, it’s a seriously silly ode to macho attitude and male camaraderie—and one that takes its guy’s-guy stuff to such extremes, it plays like a portrait of one man’s struggle to understand, and accept, his newfound homoerotic desires.
Directed by future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Point Break opens by juxtaposing two sexualized sights: Swayze elegantly surfing giant waves, and Reeves enjoying gun-blasting target practice—while getting drenched, in a skin-tight t-shirt, in the rain. Those two images are separate at the film’s outset, but they’ll eventually merge in the final scene, when Reeves confronts Swayze on Australia’s rain-soaked Bells Beach, and they tussle and become handcuffed together at the edge of historic oceanic waves. Their story is thus about learning to embrace their kinship (and oneness), and twenty-five years later, it’s hard not to read the film as an astute (albeit closeted) depiction of masculine love—and, consequently, of action movies’ not-so-latent fascination with romanticized male bonds.
Point Break is over-the-top in every respect, beginning with its characters’ fit-for-caricatures names. Reeves is Johnny Utah, a former Rose Bowl-winning Ohio State quarterback who joined the FBI after blowing out his knee and going to law school. He’s tasked with tracking down a gang of successful L.A. bank robbers who are known as the Ex-Presidents because they commit their crimes in Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Tricky Dick masks—a cabal that turns out to be led by Swayze’s Zen surfing guru, Bodhi (as in bodhisattva).
Furthermore, Utah is partnered with a loud, older father figure agent played by Gary Busey. His name is Angelo Pappas. Let me repeat: Gary Busey plays a SoCal FBI agent named Angelo. He has a deep and abiding affection for meatball sandwiches (“Utah, get me TWO!”). Suffice to say, realism is of little concern here.
Utah and Pappas have a boss (John C. McGinley) who, per genre rules, does nothing but yell and scream at them for disobeying protocol and screwing up. And, like everything else in Point Break, his insults are hyper-sexualized—none more so than when he initially describes Utah as being “young, dumb and full of cum.” Such is the general tone struck by Bigelow’s film, which soon has Utah researching a sexy female surfer (Lori Petty’s Tyler)—a scene in which Utah talks about needing to “find a way in” to Tyler’s surfing community, while the randy female agent aiding his computer query says that Tyler sounds “hot, very hot.” Pappas may claim that, over the course of his twenty-two years in L.A., “the air got dirty and the sex got clean,” but Point Break imagines the city as overrun with shirtless, chiseled hunks and bikini-clad babes, all of whom are equally comfortable tussling in the sand and stabbing/shooting each other.
Bigelow visualizes all of this (especially the surfing and skydiving material) with a mixture of full-throttle forcefulness and slow-motion lyricism, the result being that the action is tres sensual. By the time Utah has befriended Bodhi and his merry band of surfing pranksters, the air is charged with uncontrollable passion. Despite being on opposite sides of the law, Utah and Bodhi share a reckless-jock-philosopher energy that clearly marks them as preordained BFFs. Or, you know, more than just friends. That latter suggestion is implicitly made by a sterling mid-film sequence in which Bigelow’s handheld camera follows Utah as he chases a Reagan-masked Bodhi through backyards, living rooms, and streets, and then is unable to pull the trigger when he finally has the crook in his crosshairs. Confused by the fact that he can’t perform his federal-agent duty (i.e. nail him) because Bodhi is his friend (i.e. he wants to nail him), Utah expresses his pent-up frustration by screaming and repeatedly firing his gun into the sky in an act of ejaculatory agony.
Those notions are so pronounced that, during its middle section—which finds Utah falling in love with Tyler, yet constantly gazing off to think about Bodhi, or staring longingly into Bodhi’s eyes while they night-surf, hang out on the beach, or clutch each other face-to-face while skydiving—virtually every word uttered seems imbued with innuendo. “We gonna jump or jerk off?” asks Utah before the duo’s leap out of an airborne plane. “Looks like this time, you won't be getting your man,” says Bodhi at the moment of his escape. “You’re getting too close to this surfer-guru buddy of yours,” warns Pappas upon realizing that Utah’s allegiance to the law may be wavering. Amidst such suppressed longing, it’s no wonder that, at a campfire, Tyler bails after realizing, “There's too much testosterone here.”
By pushing everything to the outer limit, Point Break taps into the way manly movies—with their fixations on muscles, physical combat, companionship, and firing phallic guns—are always on the verge of transforming into macho lovefests. At heart, it’s about Utah’s quest to understand his unexpected attraction to another adventurous, dynamic man. Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s about whether he really wants to literally/figuratively switch teams. And it’s told in a manner that places such an amped-up emphasis on tough-guy one-liners, on exaggerated New Age platitudes and “hang-ten” doofusisms, on shots of studly men in sunset silhouette, and on long-haired Cali dudes pulling off gnarly extreme sports stunts, that it would come across as an outright parody were it not for Bigelow’s adrenalized direction, and her ability to strike a tone that walks right up to, but refuses to cross, the edge of ridiculousness. It’s as if Bigelow is simultaneously making the ultimate straight-faced and tongue-in-cheek action film of all-time.
Point Break needs no modernized 2015 do-over because it’s already the total package—or, as Bodhi might say to genre aficionados, “It’s the closest you'll ever get to God.”