The Wide Angle: A fascination with bank-robbing surfers

Published 4:38 pm Saturday, April 14, 2018

I have a very specific goal in this column: Convince you that “Point Break” might be one of the best movies ever.

I realize things like this are always fairly arbitrary to the person’s likes and dislikes as far as movies go and arguing that any action flick coming out of the 90s is one of the best movies put to film is always a bit of a leap. “Face/Off,” “Con Air,” Nicolas Cage.

The 90s seemed to see the action movies coming out of the 1980s and decided it could do it better.

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And that’s a pretty tall order. The 80s gave us “Die Hard,” quite possibly the most action-packed Christmas movie you’ll ever watch — and yes — it is a Christmas movie.

But what’s the case for “Point Break,” being one of the best? I admit, on the surface, there is plenty to roll your eyes about. The plot is somewhat suspect: Two FBI agents are on the case of a string of bank robberies — seasonal bank robberies at that. In the process they figure out the foursome, calling themselves the Ex-presidents [punctuated by wearing masks of presidents Reagan, Ford, Carter and Nixon] are probably surfers who are “fueling their endless summer.” To catch them the agents must entwine themselves in the surfer culture. To do that one of the agents learns to surf, falling in love with another surfer along the way.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about the reboot version in 2015 which by all accounts should be considered a crime against humanity. I’m talking about the beautiful and nearly perfect 1991 version with a cast to die for.

Check this out: Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty, John C. McKinley – and topping them all Patrick Swayze in what I consider his best role ever! Some of  you will no doubt claim “Dirty Dancing” is Swayze’s best. And you would be wrong. I’m not going to argue about it.

So let’s start with the cast starting with the idea of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in the same movie.

The cast

Keanu Reeves was on the rise, when he was at his Teddiest. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” was undoubtedly a stupid romp of a comedy but it put Reeves on the map and he was a perfect fit for Johnny Utah — quite possibly the most 90s-named character ever.

A little background on Utah. He was a college football star for THEE Ohio State, where he blew out his knee in the Rose Bowl. Instead of a possible career in the NFL, he turned to law enforcement, joining the FBI and eventually learning to surf. Makes complete 90s sense.

On the other side was Swayze’s Bodhi — The Bodhisefa. Bodhi was a Bohemian always running for the moment or the next big wave. Along the way he took every thrill he could get, his long blond locks blowing in the wind. Bodhi was another character that could really only come out of the 90s.

And then there was Gary Busey playing the older FBI agent and mentor to Reeves’ Utah. Pappas, a fitting and in-your-face character reference to being the father-figure of the movie. Also, it was still back when Busey was still bothering to comb his hair.

The rest of the cast lined up behind them, giving modern cinema some of the best character names in movie history including: Roach, Grommet, Bunker, Warchild, Tone [played by the always frantic-paced Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis] and Rosie.

So 90s.

The dialogue

I smile just thinking about the dialogue of this movie. Movies of the 80s and 90s were known for many things — over-the-top, bombastic and walking the fine line of believability. All fine, but they were also known for the dialogue. Sometimes great, often times bad but always memorable.

I guarantee you when you think surfing, you’ll think “Point Break” and every line uttered by just about anybody.

There’s the quippy and humorous dialogue like this example between Utah and McKinley’s character and senior FBI ancient Ben Harper.

Harper: “Do you think that taxpayers would like it Utah, if they knew that they were paying a federal agent to surf and pick up girls?”

Utah: “Babes”

Harper: “I beg your pardon?”

Utah: “The correct term is babes, sir.”

And then there are other times where Swayze is spouting modern day philosophy that gives meat to the ideas he’s conveying.

“If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love,” Swayze tells Reeves during a bonfire party on the beach. Swayze utters the line with a conviction that you suspect the actor actually believes.

The dialogue may not be Oscar-caliber, but it is perfect and fitting to the context it’s trying to project. By the end, you believe all of them are children of the California ideal we rightly or wrongly have of the Golden State.

The movie

The movie is pure 90s action schlock, but the story clips along at a decent pace, balancing the story and the action along the way.

Movies of these two decades often times went overboard with it’s action.Just reference any Arnold Swarzenegger movie ever. “Point Break,” avoided that for the most part, instead trending for a more realistic setting. Now, I temper “realistic” knowing that there is a scene where Reeves’ Utah jumps out of an airplane without a parachute to catch up with Swayze’s Bodhi only to actually catch him and then grapple with him in free-fall, pulling the ripcord at the last moment.

And, I realize that using a gas pump as a flamethrower is admittedly a bit much, but focus a moment on the idea of the bank robberies.

The Ex-presidents practiced speed and precision, limiting their heists in time, and taking only what they needed. The surfers were never so greedy as to take more than they needed to fuel their chase for thrills and through the acts themselves.

“This was never about the money, this was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit,” Bodhi recites at a pivotal scene where they discover Utah is an undercover agent.

Along the way, you begin to identify with the Ex-presidents just a little and you can understand why Utah would get swept up in the culture itself. Right or wrong, a part of the movie-goer always kind of wanted to see the Ex-presidents win. They were living life, playing the game on their own terms. Who doesn’t want to do that?

Naturally, it all goes wrong in the end and Utah wins, but the movie wraps itself up so nicely.

Earlier, Bodhi is talking about a 50-year winter storm that sends ripples around the globe and creates waves of titanic proportions at one beach in particular in Australia. It’s there that Utah finally tracks down Bodhi, intent on arresting him. The men, who were very nearly as close as brothers come to a reckoning of the human spirit.

“Look at it!” Bodhi desperately pleads, no longer worried about the future, only the last thrill. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, man! Let me go out there and let me get one wave, just one wave before you take me in.”

Utah uncuffs Bodhi and watches him paddle out. There’s content in Reeves’ eyes as he coasts through a scene drenched in rain.

An Australian cop confronts Utah, “We’ll get him when he comes back in!”

But Utah is already walking away, but not before saying, “He’s not coming back,” Bodhi starts down the wave and is at last swallowed by the mountain of water. Utah looks at his FBI badge and throws it away as the first chords of Ratt’s “Nobody Rides for Free,” gains intensity.

Speaking of which …

The soundtrack

The soundtrack is absolutely killer. The Concrete Blonds, Jimi Hendrix, Sheryl Crow, L.A. Guns and so many other great artists come together to set the perfect tone of this movie. Each song fits the part of the movie it plays over and arguably is the final knot that ties everything together.

I’m not saying “Point Break,” is perfect. No movie is perfect coming from each person’s point of view, but I will say it should be considered a top movie in anybody’s collection. It’s paced well, has a great script, superb soundtrack and believable characters.

And it’s an action movie based around surfing. No movie will ever capture that magic ever again.