A Look at What Made ‘Point Break’ Such a Classic

My brief biography at the bottom of my articles next to my name ends with “Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know”. This fact was never fully explained by yours truly. The truth is I love me some Keanu Reeves. You’re probably thinking “Huh? Neo from the Matrix? The wooden guy with no facial expressions?”. While I’ll never call Mr. Reeves a great actor, he’s immensely entertaining to watch and carries great stage presence. He certainly possesses his fair share of misses in his filmography but I respect that he loves taking on more low-key, independent projects and is willing to experiment instead of staying in his comfort zone. Not to mention that he seems like a down to earth guy; always giving time to fans and constantly donating to charities. For The Devil’s Advocate, he took a large pay cut so that the studio could afford sign the iconic Al Pacino just for the opportunity to work with him. He even bought brand new motorcycles for the stuntmen who worked with him on The Matrix Reloaded for all their dedication. Most importantly of all, he’s starred in some of my all-time favorite films: The Bill & Ted movies, Speed, and the one I’m going to talk about today: Point Break.

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If you’ve seen any action film in theaters in the last several months then more than likely you’ve seen a trailer for Point Break. No, not the classic starring Reeves and the late Patrick Swayze. I’m talking about the remake that will be unveiled to the world on Christmas Day. But before we talk about that, let’s go back 24 years to 1991 and analyze why Point Break is one of the best action films of the 1990s.

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Arriving into theaters just 10 days after my fifth birthday, Point Break stars Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah, an ex-college football star turned FBI agent who is assigned to infiltrate a gang responsible for a rash of bank robberies. The crooks all disguise themselves with masks resembling several past U.S. Presidents; Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon. The “Ex-Presidents”, which they dub themselves, explain that they aren’t in it for the cold hard cash, but to just stick it to the greedy men and women who oppress society. They also have an affinity for surfing which Utah takes up and soon becomes immersed in their high-velocity culture.

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The gang is headed by the free-spirited, Bonhi, played by Swayze, who bonds with Utah and accepts him as one of their own. Eventually, Utah falls for Tyler, the foxy lady of the group while his cover is blown in the midst of one of their heists. This leads to the climax which includes an amazing, belief-suspending scene where Bondi skydives to escape Utah but the latter reluctantly jumps after him – without a parachute. As intense a scene as anything.

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The music junkie in me should point out that one of the other surfers is played by none other than Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman, Anthony Kiedis who brawls brawl with Utah and Bodhi, who quickly dispose of him. This actually wasn’t the only time a rock star has shared the screen with Reeves (a noted musician himself). Let’s not forget Henry Rollins in Johnny Mnemonic and Gavin Rossdale in Constantine. Hey, how many remember former Faith No More guitarist, “Big” Jim Martin in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey?

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To me, Point Break was great because it’s just so much fun to watch. On the surface, it may look like just another paint by numbers action flick but the characters and action are so alluring that you can’t take your eyes off the screen. You can tell how much fun Swayze and Reeves had during filming as they’re both accomplished skydivers and surfers respectively in real life. Gary Busey’s character as Utah’s hard-nosed colleague is wonderful and a lot of his lines are gold. I’m fairly certain I got in trouble when I was younger for saying “I’m so hungry I can eat the ass end out of a dead rhino” in public. It’s also rad seeing John C. McGinley portraying Utah’s boss, Ben Harp a full decade before he was Dr. Cox on Scrubs. This was actually Reeves very first action role which arguably led to him being cast as the lead in Speed and later, The Matrix. It definitely carved out an alternate career path for him.

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It was released on the same day as the Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood and just two weeks after the summer megahit, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Despite the competition, it was still able to hold its own at the box office, making more than triple its $24 million budget throughout its theatrical run. Man, imagine seeing this and T2 back to back? That certainly had to have been a popular double feature at the drive-in in the early 90s. July of 1991 was certainly a good month for Keanu as Bogus Journey was released just a week after PB.

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Oh and by the way, the movie was directed by Kathryn Bigelow who would win an Academy Award for Best Director (becoming the very first woman to do so) 19 years later for her war drama, The Hurt Locker.

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Now onto the 2015 remake. It had been discussed on and off for years and eventually became one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of deals. Finally something concrete was announced in 2011 and we finally got our director in Ericson Core whose claim to fame was helming the Mark Wahlberg football picture, Invincible. Ok, Bigelow didn’t exactly electrify audiences with her early films so I’ll give that a pass. Let’s look at the writer, shall we? Kurt Wimmer. Hmm. Wimmer actually directed Equilibrium which starred Christian Bale and Taye Diggs. It was one of my favorite movies as a teen but his follow-up, Ultraviolet, starring Milla Jovovich was so horribly received that he hasn’t directed since. Now he mainly writes and his credits have been very hit or miss. Law Abiding Citizen? Okay, I liked that one just fine. Wait, he also wrote the horrendous Total Recall remake? UGH.

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Now, let’s peek at the trailer. Really? The remake seems to take itself a bit too seriously and isn’t as lighthearted as the original presented itself as. Maybe I’m wrong but this looks to be a victim of the studio wanting a film reimagined in a darker tone since it’s worked in the past with other franchises (The Dark Knight, Man of Steel) but will wind up being a gloomy mess. I do think Ray Winstone in place of Gary Busey’s character is great casting though. I’ll give them that. I can’t say much for the two leads though. This time around, Johnny Utah will be played by Luke Bracey. His biggest role to date was playing Cobra Commander in the sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation. It was an awful film but no one should ever write an actor off for one bland performance. I’ve heard good things about Edgar Ramirez, who will now take the reins as Bodhi, but am not familiar with a lot of his work. This actually won’t be the only Kathryn Bigelow related project he’ll be apart of as he previously worked with her on Zero Dark Thirty.

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To my delight, the original’s popularity is not lost on many people. There is a bar in Midtown Manhattan named Point Break that was inspired by the film. It a surfer theme and there are stills from the movie throughout. There’s actually another bar in the same neighborhood named Johnny Utah’s that’s famous for its mechanical bull. I was very upset to see no imagery of the original in the place the one time I visited.

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It’s also heavily referenced in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost action comedy, Hot Fuzz, as it’s one of Danny’s (Frost’s character) favorites and motivations at work. There’s even a live stage performance that started in Los Angeles entitled Point Break Live! and has since made its way to New York. Iy features complete audience interaction and some of the original actors even reprise their roles in the play. Hell, it’s been praised by Keanu himself!

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Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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