Control Nathan Rabin: Point Break (2015)
During the eighteen years I toiled as a film critic, I was invariably amused when readers and commenters would angrily demand to know why a particularly dodgy, ill-considered film got made. “How could they have thought (film X) was a good idea? What’s wrong with them?” they’d inquire angrily, their voices quivering with righteous indignation.
Sequels, remakes, reboots and adaptation of old TV shows and comic books inspired the angriest cries of “How could this have happened?” and “Why did this get made?” even as the answers are pretty obvious. Sequels, remakes, reboots and adaptations of old TV shows get made because they minimize risk and maximize reward for studios by giving audiences a new version of something that has already proven successful.
This of course does not suggest that these movies should be made. Far from it. But it goes an awfully long ways towards explaining how these abominations end up not just getting made but getting made en masse. Why do we have a big-screen version of Bewitched or Yogi Bear 3-D? The answer almost always comes down to money.
Besides, when I was a film critic I had to meticulously manage my rage involving the cynicism and greed of the motion picture industry or my brain would explode from anger, Scanners-style, and that wouldn't be good for anyone.
In my film critic days, I would have greeted a project like recent remakes of Robocop or Point Break—which I gave patrons to this site an opportunity to choose from for this week’s Control Nathan Rabin, the column where patrons choose between one of two torments for me—with a bored shrug and disinterested mumble of “Whatevs.”
I’m not a film critic anymore, however, and as a civilian I’m less jaded. I’ve gotten to the place where I do genuinely feel vaguely insulted by the mere existence of staggeringly unnecessary reboots and remakes, and the 2015 muddle of Point Break is about as staggeringly unnecessary as they get.
When I looked up the Point Break remake on Wikipedia and saw that it grossed a little over 133 million dollars internationally against a 105 million dollar budget, I got pointlessly angry and indignant all over again. “105 million dollars?” I asked in angry disbelief to no one in particular.
How on earth could this garbage have cost one and a half hundred million dollars and how could it have grossed over one hundred million dollars? Worldwide box-office explains how this could have grossed over a hundred million dollars without seemingly anyone liking it but that 105 million dollars sure isn’t up there on the screen, to use industry lingo.
The original Point Break had a number of irresistible elements that could never be replicated, including a future Oscar-winner (Katherine Bigelow) with a real genius for exploring the complications and complexities of masculinity in the director's chair, the funky iconic casting of the impossibly beautiful Keanu Reeves as football hero turned undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah and Patrick Swayze as Zen surfer bank robbing guru Bodhi and a fever dream of a screenplay overflowing with crazy camp elements that Bigelow, to her credit, played perfectly straight. Point Break is an exquisite time capsule from the early 1990s, a zeitgeist-capturing cult oddity that should, by all rights, be abysmal but instead is weirdly brilliant.
What does a contemporary remake of Point Break have that the original does not? The only real answer is a series of incredibly flashy, dramatic stunt sequences where literally high-flying thrill seekers defy the laws of gravity to perform the kind of wicked-sick extreme sports stunts that’d have even Xander Cage himself saying, “Those were some sick aerial moves, bro!”
If you want to see Point Break for its impressive stunt work and gorgeous cinematography, and only for its stunt work and cinematography then congratulations, because you are officially the only people on earth with a reason to see the movie. I will concede here that the stunts are pretty great, albeit not nearly great enough to redeem this misbegotten enterprise.
The other area Point Break approaches the original is in homoeroticism. I recall the first one being pretty damn homoerotic in its own right, but even at their most heated, the manly men here never seem more than a few minutes away from a feverish full-on man-on-man make-out session. The looks they exchange are frequently angry, but with a lustful undercurrent.
The woeful miscalculations begin with the casting of the bland and boring Luke Bracey as Johnny Utah. It does not help that in his first few minutes onscreen he’s cursed with having to deliver “timely” dialogue like, “This is exactly what our (extreme sports) sponsors want, the impossible realized and all those Youtube hits!”
Bracey makes so little impact in the performance that launched him to anonymity (to use an old line of mine) that my primary memory, heck, my only memory of his character is that he’s really hung up on scoring Youtube hits, which, understandably, was not part of Reeves’ conception of the character.
Yes, Utah, an “extreme poly-athlete” is trying to convince his Broseph Stalin to do the kind of impossible, Youtube-and-sponsor-friendly stunts that lead to massive Youtube hits, bro! But then our guileless hero learns a valuable, painful lesson: when you try to blow the world’s mind with your extreme sports awesomeness, sometimes you end up extremely dead.
That’s what happens to Johnny Utah's pal: he dies an extreme death, forcing Johnny to be all, “Whoa. Life is like, deep, and stuff” so he enrolls in the FBI academy and uses his unique skill set to go undercover to bring down a group of adrenaline junky robbers and free spirits led by Edgar Ramirez’s Bodhi.
Now I love Keanu Reeves as an actor, icon and person but when he’s bad he’s really bad and when his doppelgängers are bad, they’re even worse. Bracey seems to have been cast primarily because of his fuzzy resemblance to Reeves, and his unmistakably Reeves-like surfer cadences. That said, Keanu Reeves can barely get away with talking and acting like Keanu Reeves and he’s made a bunch of beloved, iconic movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and also John Wick. Bracey has not.
Point Break got some of its subversive, live-wire energy from the way that it toyed with masculinity in a very Katherine Bigelow way. It was a macho action movie, to be sure, with a cast rounded out by testosterone-heavy character actors like Gary Busey and John C. McGinley but it was directed by a woman and featured stars who were beautiful, even pretty, in a feminine, if not androgynous fashion. Making the movie’s female lead a tomboy played by Lori Petty, Tank Girl herself, only added to the intriguing and unique gender politics of the film.
Part of what makes the new Point Break so boring and forgettable is its tedious and narrow conception of masculinity. In this version, Bodhi isn’t a beautiful, alternately gentle and aggressive free spirit in touch with nature and the universe, as Swayze played him, but rather a typical male bruiser who occasionally says New Age horse shit like “You need to read the flow. Become the wind.”
Ramirez won’t make anyone forget about Patrick Swayze. It doesn’t help that the filmmakers unwisely surrounded him with henchman who looks so much like him, with their shaggy, Che Guevara beards and air of alpha-male aggression, that it can be difficult to even tell them apart.
I spent most of Point Break’s run time wishing that I was watching the original Point Break, or, alternately, Hot Fuzz, which is, in addition to being just about perfect, a brilliant meta deconstruction of the original Point Break. A clever Point Break reboot with a self-referential edge would find a way to cheekily reference Hot Fuzz’s gleeful homage but this is a movie without a clever, self-referential bone in its body but it’s weird earnestness doesn’t lead to unintentional comedy either.
The original Point Break took itself seriously, which was a key to its greatness. The Point Break remake takes itself just as seriously, but this time its misplaced solemnity keeps it from being any dumb fun at all. It's not dumb fun. It's just dumb.
Watching Point Break a day or two after Baywatch made me think that Baywatch’s leads were wasted on Baywatch. Point Break really, really did not need to be made. I feel like I should probably reiterate that point. But if it was going to be remade then it needed not just actors but larger-than-life icons with big personalities and big personas.
So why not cast Dwayne Johnson as Bodhi? He has the charisma, he has the presence, he’s physically imposing. He has a bit of the Zen calm that Swayze brought to the role, and if you’re casting a spirited pretty boy, you could do worse than Zac Effron.
Point Break wants desperately to be about more than just sick-ass stunts and extreme sports awesomeness. It wants to be about men, and destiny, and fate, and honor, and loyalty, and friendship, and how to live in this world with integrity and honor. It fails spectacularly on that front, but it does, indeed feature more than its share of sick-ass stunts and wicked-ass extreme sports awesomeness.
Point Break is extreme alright: extremely boring! I watched it just a few hours ago and I already barely remember it. It’s like in Back to the Future only instead of my loved ones starting to fade from a picture the longer I’m in the past, I had the curious and unpleasant experience of Point Break starting to fade from my mind and my memory even as I was watching it. It’s that kind a movie.
What I’m saying, I suppose, is that I’m not entirely sure the Point Break remake needed to happen.
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