Point Break rewards patience with potent second half, stunts

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Motion Pictures.

The worst reviewed movie of 2015, bizarrely, is the most impressive of the year’s Christmas Day releases.

Point Break follows Johnny “Utah” Brigham, a provisional FBI agent and former motorcross star who retired after a close friend, Jeff (Max Theriot), died following his line. After a string of bizarrely athletic heists, Utah correctly surmises that the three perpetrators are poly-athletes committing robberies while also performing the Osaki 8, a series of eight extremely difficult athletic feats supposed to bring enlightenment to any who can perform them. Utah infiltrates the group off the coast of France performing the fourth feat, surfing massive waves created by a hurricane swell, and begins to descend into the cultish group’s worldview.

It’s very easy to poke holes in Point Break, mostly because its first 30-40 minutes are absolutely atrocious. It’s dull police work/expository sequences alternating with glib, lame action sequences edited into pop music videos. The nadir is the first scene between Utah and Samsara Dietz (Teresa Palmer), set at night after the surfing scene. Dietz entices Utah into a dive, during which they bond, and during which the Sun is clearly visible through the water. It’s night again when they surface.

There’s no flow to the movie during this time, and after its most laughable gaff, it’s easy to write off.

But after that scene, a switch flips, and Point Break becomes the intimate, grim action drama it was destined to be.

As good as Ramírez is, the first choice for Bodhi was Gerard Butler. With his fame and pull in the role, things would have turned out a lot different for this movie.

Like the original, the movie’s central relationship is between Utah and Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez), reimagined as less of a bro sticking it to the system and more of a cult leader. While performing death-defying feats, Utah is forced to face his guilt over Jeff’s death while also grappling with his own identity — his predilection toward chaos as an adrenaline junkie and his oaths to order as a federal officer, and in the context of that conflict, viewers must constantly ask themselves if Bodhi is saving Utah or damning him. You can’t even be sure what salvation or damnation is, as far as Utah is concerned. There’s a lot of character stuff going on here.

Everybody rightly got googly eyed about Mad Max: Fury Road because the stunts were all practical, and they should be getting googly eyed over Point Break for the same reason. They brought in a handful of the most highly trained extreme athletes in the world for stunt doubles, and actually did everything shown in the film, from the 145 mph wingsuit sequence to snowboarding down Aiguille de la Grande Sassiére. And despite the pure ballsy chops of the action, it still manages to be incorporated into Utah’s internal conflicts and Bodhi’s relationship to them.

The best part about this movie is its concept as a remake. It doesn’t just go through the plot of the original, it expands on its story and themes and updates them. This Point Break is set in a bigger world than the original. It uses technology that wasn’t around in 1991 — this movie was tailor-made for Go Pro cameras, which it woefully underuses — and is clearly set in a 2015 world. Aside from two choice scenes, nothing is repeated directly from the original. For the most part, the acting is also a lot better — Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey are remembered much more fondly than they deserve to be, and Ramírez and Ray Winstone are fine upgrades over them.

There is a ton of room to improve here, mostly in that first leg. There are also a couple of stunts that are only alluded to, and it would be great to see them shot with the same dexterity the snowboarding and free climbing sequences are. But there’s also a lot to appreciate.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Depression does come in fruit form. It’s a… banana. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

 

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