Time catches up to all of us sooner or later and whether we care to admit it or not, most of us will grow to recognize the ever changing world around us less and less. However, if you think we’ve got it bad, spare a thought for movies and how they remain a frozen, perfect snapshot of the time it was made, shitty fashions and long dead fashions and all.
This brings us promptly (and possibly riding a surfboard in slo-mo that’s almost pornographic) to Katherine Bigelow’s infamous deconstruction of machismo in the form of a blistering thriller that throws in bank robberies, parachute jumping (without a parachute) and countless uses of the word “bro” with no sense of restraint whatsoever. I am, of course, talking about Point Break – arguably one of the most aggressively 90’s movies ever to run through a projector, but have all the references to surf culture and the sight of a cameoing and braided Anthony Kleidis from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers dated one of the greatest actioners of the early nineties?
Rookie Federal agent Johnny Utah has just been assigned to assist crusty, veteran Angelo Pappas in order to crack a string of armed bank robberies perpetrated by a masked gang known as the Ex Presidents. The gang is professional, disciplined and Pappas is convinced – due to random evidence that his superiors openly sneer at – that the gang are most likely members of the surfer culture that’s gripped the coasts of California. The decision is begrudgingly made to hurl Utah into the deep end of the world of curls, board wax and over usage of the world “radical” and the young agent has to learn to surf in order to infiltrate and discover the identity of the Ex Presidents.
Finding an in in the form of Tyler, a sarcastic waitress who agrees to give him some much needed pointers, Johnny eventually meets Bodhi, a tremendously charismatic surfer who employs a no-shirt policy that would make Matthew McConaughey thump his chest who Utah is drawn to due to reasons beyond the fact that they have noticably absurd names…
As Johnny gets deeper and deeper into a lifestyle that sees him reach a sense of inner peace that being a virtually perfect agent who is described as being “young, dumb and full of cum” so far hasn’t been able to give him.
Of course to no one’s surprise – except dumb old Johnny – we eventually find out that Bodhi’s gang are the Ex Presidents and they hijack banks as a way to simultaneously fund their lifestyle and give them that constant buzz they’re constantly searching for.
Caught between his duty to the FBI and the full blown hetero-love haze he has with the magnetic Bodhi, can Johnny bring himself to actually turn everyone in?
Not a million miles away from Bigalow’s insanely stylish vampire western, Near Dark (young man is lured into a seductive lifestyle by a charismatic gang), the influence of Point Break was deceptively seismic. Not including the rash of other, vastly inferior, adrenaline-themed action movies that followed immediately in its wake (has anyone actually seen Terminal Velocity with Charlie Sheen?), the ascension of Keanu Reeves from Ted “Theodore” Logan to Speed’s Jack Traven and then ultimately Neo, was only possible thanks to the antics of Johnny Utah. Similarly, the biggest action franchise in the world simply wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Bigalow’s opus due to the fact that it’s original installment is an unrepentant rip off. No Point Break, no Fast & Furious franchise – it’s that simple.
But chatting about a movie’s legacy is no guarantee that it still holds up for a modern audience – and make no mistake, when you base your movie entirely around a particular sub-culture you run the risk of being more horribly dated than the Vanilla Ice bits in that Ninja Turtles sequel. Admittedly the terminology that flies out of people’s beach holes may cause the occasional cringe and certain hairstyles carbon date proceedings impressively, but it’s the sheer energy of the thing that’s most overwhelming. Using the type of flashy style employed by Simpson & Bruckheimer in the 80’s as a launch pad, Bigelow creates an incendiary world where people unapologetically utter phrases like “I was in this bureau when you were still popping zits on your funny face and jerking off with the lingerie section of the sears catalog.” with epically straight faces.
And what faces… Reeves and Patrick Swayze as Bodhi are a ridiculously attractive couple of leads (spare a thought for poor Lori Petty who seems to solely be there to offset some of the magnificent homo-eroticism Bigalow sprays everywhere like a flaming petrol pump) and their relationship is one of the greatest bromances in movie history and can even hold it’s own against the absurdly macho goo-goo eyes that are usually thrown about in John Woo movies, the last ten minutes of Top Gun or anything that involves Sebastian Stan playing Bucky Barnes.
As an added bonus – and a much needed antidote for all the shirtless, chiseled man-gods constantly striding through frame – is the undiluted specimen of insanity known as Gary Busey who certainly doesn’t let us down. Constantly baring his overbite at everyone for reasons only known to himself and rasping pure gold at people like: “I was takin’ shrapnel in Khe Sanh when you were crappin’ in your hands and rubbin’ it on your face!” like that’s the kind of sentence people actually say.
While some undoubtedly approach Point Break these days as an endless source of prime action cheese, to have watched it at the time would have been stunning as Katherine Bigelow’s approach to the action is intimate and flashy. I myself found the film much further down the line, but I suspect if I’d seen it when it first came out, I probably would have whacked on another star to that rating in a second. The bank heists are breathless, the surfing is shot seductively and the various stunt sequences are ballsy as hell, but taking pride of placement is a foot chase between Swayze and Reeves that ends with Point Break’s most famous moment as Utah, having pulled his gun on a fleeing Bodhi finds himself unable to shoot the gorgeous guru and instead screams and impotently empties his piece (steady now..) into the sky.
Perfectly pastiched by Edgar Wright in superb action love-letter Hot Fuzz, it turns out the parody is actually the perfect way to enjoy Point Break as a whole. As Nick Frost’s Danny Butterman mimes to the moment in a reverential state of pure fandom, it becomes apparent that we shouldn’t be lactose intolerant when it comes to 90’s action cheese and instead embrace it in a Predator-style bro-handshake as you would a beloved mate you haven’t seen in a while – but maybe not do it while hurtling out of a plane, yeah?