As a longtime Fast and Furious fanboy, I’d never seen Point Break, though I’ve heard some comparisons. It’s obvious that Fast was heavily inspired by this film which came out 10 years prior. While not nearly as good, Point Break still has strong entertainment value–the main reason why we keep coming back to the Fast and Furious franchise (nearly nine movies in) regardless of any other factors. But I just don’t think its progenitor has the characters or the genuine depth necessary to produce those same results. Evidence that you need more than just action.
Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Utah, a rookie FBI agent in Los Angeles, assigned to a string of nearly thirty bank robberies by a group called the Ex-Presidents, due to their disguises, which are masks of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and others. Other than that, their identity is a secret. Johnny’s partner is Angelo Pappa (Gary Busey), a veteran agent who’s been investigating the Ex-Presidents robberies for a while now. He has a wacky theory that the men behind the crimes are a local gang of surfers. His colleagues laugh in his face, but Johnny’s on board (no pun intended).
Johnny agrees to go undercover to infiltrate the surf scene. But he’s from Ohio and has no idea how to surf. This all changes when he has a run-in with Tyler (Lori Petty), an female surfer who becomes his love interest and teaches him to surf. Through Tyler, he meets Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the charismatic leader of the surfer gang. Forming a bond with Bodhi, Johnny begins to fall in love with surf culture and gains respect for the people he meets.
If you’ve seen the first Fast and the Furious movie, imagine that, but with surfing. Only in Point Break, the bond between Johnny and Bodhi isn’t formulated enough. The long runtime isn’t utilized to build up enough of their relationship. On one hand, you commend the film for developing Johnny’s allegiance to both sides–Angelo and Bodhi–but because of that, his time with Bodhi is shared instead of having more focus placed on it. Not only for the sake of their friendship, but for the sake of building up Johnny’s love for surfing and making it feel more earned. That’s where The Fast and the Furious does right by having Brian dive deep into this world of underground street racing, with little time spent on his allegiance to being a cop. We already know why he’s conflicted. He’s a cop!
There’s a lot of fabricated depth throughout Point Break–put on paper because it sounds good here and there. But really this movie’s priority is to thrill, not to make you think or feel.
Swayze is intimidating and subtly terrifying. You’re unsure what he’s thinking or what he knows. Or better yet, what he’s capable of. You can’t read him, and that’s by Swayze’s choice. It takes a special kind of actor to not give the audience anything while simultaneously giving them everything. Swayze was truly special.
Unfortunately the script never settles in his character firmly enough. Early on, Bodhi is a man of principles. But when it’s convenient, the plug is pulled on his philosophies. And when his moral fiber starts to unravel in the film, we can’t sympathize because it wasn’t really there to begin with.
We want him to be more complex so that we root for him a little more, having the same invested interest as Johnny does. Instead, we begin to detest him. Rather than garnering sympathy for Bodhi and giving us justification for the gray area of his morals, the film gives us an out.
Point Break is never as poetic as you think it’s about to be. Like I said, this movie is made to entertain. And the thrills we get are truly spectacular. But if it’s gonna try to be profound, I just want to see it commit a little more.