From the Archive: Point Break

Much as I’ve admired Kathryn Bigelow’s recent and somewhat sudden escalation to the upper ranks of “important” modern filmmakers–the two films responsible for the shift are both formidable works–I still struggle with the cognitive dissonance of the director of Point Break as an exalted Oscar-winner. That’s how much I disliked that film, an ire that’s only grown over the years as plenty of people have cited it as a willfully dumb pleasure. Despite what it might seem like, I can get behind grandly, deliberately dopey summer popcorn fare, old or new, but I’ve never understood the affection for this particular film. My only surprise from this old review is that I didn’t devote a few words to slamming the performance of John C. McGinley, an actor who so thoroughly established himself as loathsome in this film that I still wince whenever I see him.

With her 1990 release, BLUE STEEL, Kathryn Bigelow used her sharp, stylish direction and a pair of powerful performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Silver to elevate a very shaky script into a fairly effective piece of filmmaking. No such luck with her latest effort, however, as POINT BREAK sports clumsy, stiff performances and a directing job that is certainly acceptable, but not as crisp as her previous effort.

POINT BREAK follows the exploits of Keanu Reeves as a young buck FBI agent who teams with new partner Gary Busey to to try and catch a quartet of highly successful bank robbers. On a hunch and an prayer, they decide the robbers must be surfers, and so Reeves goes undercover on the beach, catching waves, wearing sunglasses, and partying all night long. Patrick Swayze is a long-haired, philosophizing surfer guru who befriends Reeves and shows him the thrills of taking risks. Reeves’s character is an empty shell. The script never lets us see inside him and Reeves’s wooden performance doesn’t help much. Swayze fares a bit better with his slightly crazed character, but only Lori Petty, serving as Reeves’s love interest, shows any spark or vitality.

The film does occasionally make a grab for the audience, most notably in the well-shot surfing sequences or the skydiving scenes that are absolutely amazing to look at. But the coincidence-filled script always resurfaces to drag everyone and everything down with it. It’s rarely believable and often has characters making oddball choices that nearly have you shouting at the screen. In the end, Keanu Reeves learns that justice is secondary to catching the perfect wave. That conclusion, like the rest of POINT BREAK, is simply hard to take. (1 and 1/2 stars.)

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