Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 3:03 pm 
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Point broken

The 1991 Point Break is a classic movie by Kathryn Bigelow about a crew of surfer bank robbers, counter culture daredevils who rob banks in rubber Dead Presidents masks in the off season to finance their global searches for the perfect wave the rest of the year. Patrick Swayze (in a cult role) was Bodhi, their leader and guru. When the FBI in the person of agent Pappas (Gary Busey) starts to suspect the string of bank robberies he's been assigned to investigate is being done by surfers, rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves, in his own coolest and sexiest role) is called in to infiltrate the southern California surfing community. Utah goes underground and falls for the illegal life and for Bodhi's sweet girlfriend Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty), who he meets on the beach and persuades to teach him to surf. Flea, James Le Gros, and Anthony Kiedis appear in secondary roles; Bigelow does a great job of defining in some depth the various colorful crew members and the subculture. Busey is memorable too, at once bossy and defiant. He doesn't appear often, but the way he and Reeves play off each other helps define Johnny Utah's increasingly ambivalent relationship with authority. Pappas calls Utah "Young, dumb, and full of cum" when they first meet; he will become much more than that, because this is a cops-and-robbers thriller that is also an offbeat coming-of-age movie whose crossing-over from law enforcement officer to defiant adventurer has lasting appeal.

One of the things that makes this original movie sing in Bigelow's hands, besides its love of the sea, are the exciting bank robbery sequences, whose devil-may-care craziness sets the tone and defines the panache of the charismatic crew of sportsmen-outlaws. This film showed what a good action movie director Kathryn Bigelow was, with propulsive narrative thrust, visual flair, and a sense of humor. Bigelow's Point Break was one of the most original and enjoyable thrillers of the Nineties, a springboard for the Furious franchise, and if not critically praised, a box office success that became a beloved cult film, the best and most enjoyable feature film ever made with surfing at the heart of it.

Well, it may have been inevitable that there would be a remake, but this one is a big expensive flop in the manner of current blockbusters. It's overkill. Relative unknown Luke Bracey is Johnny Utah, and he's bland, athletic, and a little sad -- which fits the new Johnny, who is a semi-retired extreme sports addict who's riddled with guilt for luring his best friend to his death in a ridiculously dangerous dirt bike ride over a cliff. The other leads are okay, though Delroy Lindo as Utah's FBI supervisor initially seems disturbingly lame. Ray Winstone is typically flavorful in a British version of Busey's role. Édgar Ramírez doesn't work so well as Bodhi (he has also been wasted as Jennifer Lawrence's ex in Russell's new film Joy). He doesn't seem fully at home with his role or with his English lines. He is also saddled with two vaguely European cohorts who are virtual clones, dark-haired and short-bearded, like him -- a contrast with the colorful, well-differentiated American crew of Bigelow's surfer bank robbers.

But this new version fails basically not because of any inadequacies in its cast but because it's too complicated. It loses the focus and point (and incidentally has to fudge a dubious new meaning for the original surfing term "point break"). Gone are the bank robbing and the surfing, or the latter at least no longer what it is for true surfers, the raison-d'être of life, but only one of a series of eight super-extreme sport challenges, like the wonders of the world, or something, set up by some guy who died trying to execute them as a way of creating increased respect for the earth. How would that work, exactly? This whole scheme seems obviously concocted to serve as the excuse for a series of set pieces that will fill up the movie.

Part of the new crew's program is to "give back," a concept that's so ill defined it would take another movie to explain it. Apparently "giving back" can include dumping uncut diamonds on the poor people of Mumbai (mispronounced by Lindo), dropping giant blocks of currency on who-knows-who, and destroying a series of gold mines. What? We can understand robbing banks to pay for your surfing trips. It's an anti-establishment statement. But these new guys are financed by a young Eurotrash billionaire called Pascal Al Fariq (Nikolai Kinski, who played Karl Lagerfeld briefly in Bertrand Bonello's decandent Yves Saint Laurent) and participate in wild expensive parties that he gives, which Johnny Utah also seems to enjoy. Not much counter-cultural about that. And Al Fariq has a flashy house in the mountains that the crooks admit is anything but ecologically respectful. These extreme eco-warriors are freeloaders. It doesn't fit.

The fact is the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, penned with help from Rick King and W. Peter Iliff, the authors of the original, is poorly thought through, and like every aspect of this remake, overelaborate. The simplicity and purity of the original now seem awesome in comparison. Spectacular mountain set pieces don't make up for the loss of character development and hopelessly muddle the points of the original, which has so many sweet spots and classic lines. While Swayze famously did all his own stunt work and he and Keanu threw themselves into their surfing and sky diving scenes, there are elaborate sequences in this remake that are preposterous and simply scream CGI. What has been added besides overcomplexity and tattoos, is hard to say. It's a pity because Luke Bracey has a certain charisma, and Édgar Ramirez certainly is a talented actor with a flair for the bold, at least with the right director. After all, he did play the lead role in Olivier Assayas amazing miniseries Carlos.

Point Break, 114 mins., was released Christmas Day in 3D and 2D versions. James Le Gros, who was one of the bank robbers, Roach, appears in a minor role here, crossed over -- as an FBI agent. At Regal Union Square 29 Dec. 2015.


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