In Praise of ‘Point Break,’ a Trashy Summer Classic That Doesn’t Need a Remake

There’s such a thing as serendipity, it seems. Just as I was preparing to write about the old Point Break, on the basis that it is the single best trashy beach film of all time, the news broke that the inevitable Point Break remake is on its way. On the basis of the trailer, though, the new version looks…. well, let’s be honest, it looks terrible. That’s not to say that the old Point Break — directed by Kathryn Bigelow — wasn’t terrible either, but the whole point of that film is that it’s terrible in an entirely endearing manner.

Even in the halcyon days of 1991, when Keanu Reaves was unimpeachably cool and Blood Sugar Sex Magik was on everyone’s stereo, it was clear that the premise behind Point Break was kind of ridiculous: rookie cop Johnny Utah (Reeves) goes undercover to try to catch a bunch of bank robbers who also happen to be enthusiastic surfers. It’s quite possibly the most LA film ever made — Utah’s absurd mission involves learning to surf (courtesy of the hot girl, Lori Petty, who pulls him from the water after his disastrous first attempt at the waves), immersing himself in surfer culture, and becoming friendly with a surf-guru type (the late Patrick Swayze, sporting an impressively silly haircut), who… [spoiler alert] OMG TURNS OUT TO BE THE LEADER OF THE BANK-ROBBER GANG! There are also inexplicable sky dives, lots of slow-motion footage of crashing surf, plenty of spandex — and, of course, Anthony Kiedis as a surf Nazi, delivering the immortal line, “That would be a waste of time”:

As several commentators have noted, the script for the new Point Break sounds even sillier than its predecessor — the surfers of the original are now extreme sports enthusiasts, given to “using their skills to disrupt the international financial markets.” It looks like there are plenty of big-budget stunts, and the whole thing comes across more like an earnest Fast and Furious rip-off than the Endless-Summer-but-with-cops! idea of the original.

Because here’s the thing about Bigelow’s film: it embraces its own ridiculousness, doubles down on it, and as a result becomes a thoroughly enjoyable piece of early-’90s camp. Poor Keanu Reeves is terrible as Johnny Utah, except that the simple fact of his acting being so bad ends up lending his character a certain clueless charm that’s kinda perfect for the role. Swayze, meanwhile, embraces his role as surf guru Bodhi (“they call him The Bodhisattva”), hamming it up to deliver lines like, “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price,” with an impressively straight face.

The script incorporates every cop-film trope imaginable: the jaded veteran cop who gets stuck with Utah as a partner and ends up revitalized by his younger colleague’s energy and diligence (Gary Busey, a man who, lest we forget, once snorted cocaine off his dog), the asshole police chief (John McGinley) who shouts a lot at Utah and his partner but in the end is ~*proven wrong*~, etc. Again, the film doubles down on these tropes, so that you get scenes like the one where Utah wanders into police HQ toting a surfboard, gets chewed out by his boss, and responds to the demand for “any remotely interesting [information]” by noting that he “caught my first tube this morning… Sir”:

The film had a decent budget ($24 million, which wasn’t pocket change 25 years ago), but somehow still managed to look like it was done on the cheap, with a shoddiness that added to its ramshackle charm — the hilarious pink surfboard that Reeves totes for most of the movie would surely get you laughed off any real beach, and the fight scenes aren’t so much choreographed as improvised. And then there’s the final scene, which was the subject of particular amusement in Australia because of the fact that despite being set at famous Australian surf mecca Bells Beach, it was… clearly not shot at Bells Beach.

Bells Beach
Bells Beach

It turns out the beach in question is in fact a place called Indian Beach in Oregon. But, y’know, what’s a few thousand miles between friends?

Not Bells Beach
Not Bells Beach

Still, the distinct lack of an Australian location didn’t prevent the filmmakers from apparently tracking down any rando who could sort of do a silly Australian accent (“You let him go!” at 2:37 here is possibly the worst attempt at Strine on record) and dressing them up in something approximating Victoria Police garb. The whole scene is beyond silly, but also somehow completely appropriate.

I could be wrong about the new Point Break, of course — it could be just as gloriously and exuberantly absurd as its predecessor. Hell, it might be more so! But either way, at least one trip to the beach this summer should be preceded by a showing of the original Johnny Utah mumbling his way through the silliest undercover job in history. Anything less would be… a waste of time.

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