Fox // 1991 // 122 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 3rd, 2006
"Surfing's the source. Can change your life. Swear to God."
There's a certain zen to writing movie reviews, a feeling of becoming one with a motion picture as you become enveloped by its rhythms and spirit. It's more than just popping a DVD into the player and watching; it's riding the disc. Reviewing is like surfing or skydiving; it's a pure adrenaline rush!
No one's ever said that about movie criticism before, but in 1991, no one had brought the pure rush of surfing to the big screen in the way Point Break did. Full of neat quotes about the surfing life and adrenaline rushes -- stuff like "Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true" -- along with lots and lots of shots of surfer dudes riding perfect waves, Point Break is a movie that has probably seeped into your consciousness. Even if you haven't seen it, you may well remember the ads featuring the other part of the movie: bank robbers disguised as ex-presidents.
The movie made Keanu Reeves an action hero. Since 1991, it's been run on cable a zillion times and you've probably seen it at least two hundred of them (numbers slightly exaggerated for comic effect). The first time around, Point Break took in more than $83 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Now, it's back on DVD as Point Break: Pure Adrenaline Edition.
As the opening credits roll, you get surfing and shooting. That pretty much sums up Point Break, of course, but more specifically, what you'll see are shots of a lone surfer tackling the waves intercut with newbie FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves, Speed) shooting targets on a training range, where he gets 100 percent.
That's not enough for his new boss, Ben Harp (John C. McGinley, Scrubs), who tells him, "You know nothing. You know less than nothing. If you even knew that you knew nothing, that would be something -- but you don't." Wouldn't Harp be great at writing inspirational posters? He even monitors his agents' food intake, so much so that Johnny tells him, "I take skin off chicken," to try to win him over.
Next, Johnny meets Angelo (Gary Busey, Lethal Weapon), his new partner. Angelo is blindfolded for a water training exercise, so he doesn't realize that when he's griping about "that quarterback punk" he'll be working with, he's saying it to the quarterback punk in question.
The agents are briefed with a video of a bank robbery committed by a gang known as the Ex-Presidents because they wear masks of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard M. Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson as they commit their crimes, making quips such as, "Ron, I've got Nancy on the line," as they scoop up cash. Angelo has a theory, but he doesn't share it with Johnny until the newbie badgers it out of him. What's the theory? "The Ex-Presidents are surfers." Angelo sees traces of a tan line under those masks and found traces of surfboard wax at a crime scene.
Angelo wants Johnny to learn to surf so he can hang out with the beach bums. Johnny's first effort is literally a crashing disaster. He's pulled out by the beautiful surfer babe who just happens to be nearby. "You want to commit suicide, you do it someplace else," Tyler Ann (Lori Petty, A League of Her Own) tells Johnny, but soon she's showing him the basics. They soon fall for each other, even when not getting buffeted by the surf. Tyler Ann introduces Johnny to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze, Ghost), whom she says is "even crazier than you, Johnny." When Johnny gets surrounded by toughs on the beach, Bodhi steps in to let them know Johnny's a friend.
"You don't know it yet, but you got it," Bodhi tells Johnny.
After a raid that goes bad, Johnny thinks he's figured out how to crack the case. At this point, Point Break turns into the endless chase scene, starting with Johnny's pursuit of the ersatz Reagan for around 10 minutes of screen time and wrapping up with a unique mano-a-mano action scene between Johnny and the gang leader. No, make that wrapping up with a unique mano-a-mano action scene followed by one last ride into the surf.
Point Break has some interesting detection techniques -- such as when Angelo goes up the beach giving surfers impromptu haircuts to get samples for comparison -- and some nifty nasty or mystical quotes (although quite a few are laced with profanity), but what it's about is action. Director Kathryn Bigelow keeps it moving with lots of surfers hitting the waves mixed with gunplay and chases. When that starts to wear thin, it's time to go skydiving. The "it's 100 percent pure adrenaline" tag fits, so expect to be exhausted just watching.
The scenes of the sun shining off waves and skydivers falling against the backgrounds of sea, mountains, and desert are beautiful, and this DVD captures that in all its glory. Every action scene, whether sporting or shooting, looks great, with the pulsing pop music score keeping the pace.
The acting's not as spectacular as the cinematography, but it's not shabby. Keanu Reeves plays it just cocky enough to let us know that he's as much of an adrenaline junkie as his quarry without making everyone in the audience want to see him get his lights punched out and is convincing as both a determined FBI agent and a surfer dude. Gary Busey does a good turn as his grumpy veteran partner. Patrick Swayze steals the show as Bodhi, the mystical surfer who befriends Johnny, and Lori Petty's tough babe act fits into this action movie seamlessly.
What makes the "Pure Adrenaline Edition" special? A look back at the movie by the cast and crew, divided into three sections: "It's Make or Break," about the movie itself; "Ride the Wave," about surfing, and "Adrenaline Junkies," about action shooting and the pursuit of thrills. "On Location: Malibu" sends surfer actors John Philbin and Bojesse Christopher back to some of the locations featured in Point Break. The actors suggest that the spirituality of surfing makes Point Break a classic; I'd say it's more a sense of the fun the actors are having, combined with Kathryn Bigelow's well-choreographed action set pieces.
Deleted scenes here are brief, with a lesser picture quality that suggests they weren't ever expected to see the light of day; one has some interesting tension between Johnny and Harp, but even that one was worth cutting to keep the movie moving. There's also a booklet with some quotes and facts about the movie.
There may be some good quips and nice touches, but surfing and shooting still sums it up. If it sounds like fun, you'll enjoy it but you'll have to be in the mood for a movie that's all action, no rest.
The profanity flies a little too fast and two of the set-piece action sequences get bloody, so some people might prefer the "Edited for Television" version on cable TV.
The most devoted fans of Point Break, no doubt, would call this film a mystical classic. Even if most of us wouldn't go that far, it's a heck of a lot of fun. If you like action movies, you'll probably love this one. It's loaded with thrills, and the casting and sharp dialogue round out a great movie experience.
The movie's not guilty. If you've already got a copy, I wouldn't double-dip, but if you're looking to add Point Break to your collection, the interviews are a nice bonus.
Look for Pencil Point Break, the ultimate adrenaline rush movie about the zen of DVD reviewing, at theaters near you -- unless it goes straight to DVD.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Eight Deleted Scenes
* "It's Make or Break" Retrospective
* "Ride the Wave" Featurette
* "Adrenaline Junkies" Featurette
* "On Location: Malibu" Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Theatrical Trailers