Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break was fairly successful when it hit cinemas back in 1991, pitting Keanu Reeves’ rookie FBI agent against Patrick Swayze’s impossibly cool surfing bank robber in a film that landed with audiences but was largely dismissed by critics.
Its uniquely sensitive spin on macho action movies has led to its reappraisal as a cult classic, thus making this remake pretty much inevitable. Few of us would have predicted that director/cinematographer Ericson Core would convert it into an extreme sports movie, but that’s one of the only surprises to be had here.
After a tragic accident, former poly-athlete Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) leaves the adrenaline junkie scene behind and applies to join the FBI. He’s still on probation when he discovers that a daring gang of bank robbers who use extreme sports skills in their heists are also undertaking the Ozaki 8, a checklist of extreme ordeals that are intended to honour nature. Despite the understandable incredulity of the FBI’s top brass, Utah’s instructor, Hall (Delroy Lindo), gives him a shot at catching the crooks.
Travelling to Paris to work under grizzled field agent Pappas (Ray Winstone), Utah is instructed to get close to Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez) and his crew and gather evidence of their crimes. However, as he joins in with the ordeals, Utah finds his loyalties divided between Bodhi’s free-spirited Robin Hood philosophy and his obligation to the law.
Remakes like this one often try and find a new way into an old property, like jimmying open a post-modern window or ducking through some subversive cat-flap. It’s just unfortunate for the 2016 version of Point Break that it’s turned up outside with several kegs full of pre-mixed vodka and Red Bull to find that the place has already been thoroughly turned over by 2001’s The Fast & The Furious.
You know what we mean. In both of those movies, a cop uses his expertise to go undercover, with the aim of busting a notorious criminal with similar skills and interests. There’s a bit of common philosophy, there’s a beautiful woman (Lori Petty, Jordana Brewster and now for PB 2.0, Teresa Palmer) and there’s a simmering bromance, all of which leads the hero astray.
The Fast & Furious sequels have since successfully changed lanes from crime movies to a superhero action franchise in all but name, which at least puts some distance between them and any rightful Point Break remake. Plot aside, the two films have Core’s cinematography in common, so it’s doubly disappointing that it fails to have any fresh twists on the original.
It gets the essentials right. The dynamic between Utah and Bodhi remains paramount – Swayze once said of the original that he wanted to play the film as a love story between two men. That roughly goes for this too, with the leads man-hugging for all they’re worth. It would be overly generous to say that Bracey’s floppy performance is even a patch on Keanu’s own unique charisma, but Ramírez definitely fares better in riding the wave that takes Bodhi from local bank robber to spiritually inclined Bond villain along with the upscaled stakes.
This aside, the film repeatedly tips its hat to the iconic parts of the original film, as if to illustrate their working in adapting it for the 21st century. For instance, the Ex-Presidents have updated their headgear to reflect Clinton, Dubya and Obama rather than Reagan et al, and of course, Bracey has the unenviable task of recreating an iconic moment at the end of the second act that Nick Frost so memorably claimed for his own in Hot Fuzz.
Elsewhere, there’s understated but indispensable support work from Winstone and Lindo as Utah’s exasperated handlers. Lindo is reliable as always in his brief role, but it’s the chain-smoking Winstone who, somehow, subtly rises to the top, adding characterful touches like stalking away and massaging his sore back after a repeat bout of grumbling about the young firebrand’s loyalties. His casting was a bit of a head-scratcher going in, but unlike his co-stars, he’s not referring back to the previous Pappas. He’s doing a Ray Winstone, not a Gary Busey, and frankly, that’s always good value.
As silly as Kurt Wimmer’s script is, it’s impossible to go on without praising the stunt work in this one, with the various extreme sports disciplines and gorgeous vistas from around the world making for some dazzling action sequences. There’s a vision at work here, but it hasn’t allowed for much of interest to go on in between action beats.
Sure, there are endless party scenes, but these look a lot like adverts, especially given how the product placement pops brighter than any of the interactions between characters. Likewise, the sputtering chemistry between Bracey and Teresa Palmer (standing in for Lori Petty’s role) would be scant for a perfume advert, let alone a token hetero-romantic sub-plot.
But at least the action mostly looks good. Surprisingly, the film has a little in common with Mad Max: Fury Road as a film that boasts extraordinary stunts complemented by CGI enhancements, except that the craft obviously isn’t up to George Miller’s standard. Here, the digital bits tend to let the air out of the practical stuff and the best and most jaw-dropping scenes, particularly an intense rock climbing sequence near the end, are the ones where the additional effects are not in evidence.
It also has a composer in common with Fury Road in Tom ‘Junkie XL’ Holkenberg, who contributes some similarly propulsive motifs here. It’s telling that it feels like the score is leading the action, rather than the other way around, and that’s especially apparent whenever it falls back on needle drops like The Black Keys’ Gold On The Ceiling instead.
As a globe-trotting remake for the lumbersexual set, Point Break is twice removed from the obviously superior original, but many of its updates serve to empty it out and redouble the daftness. The stunt work is often breathtaking, but ultimately, the intoxicating mix of extreme action and snoozy bro mysticism serve to foreground how good Ray Winstone was with his sore back. It’s worth seeing on a big screen for the visuals, but that’s definitely not the takeaway you’d expect from an update to a super-masculine action classic.
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