Friday, December 25, 2015

Movie Review: The 'Point Break' Remake Is A Joyless Retread That Misses The Point

It’s been difficult not to make a terrible pun about the new remake of the 1991 cult action favorite Point Break, but I just don’t think I can start this off any other way. Watching director Ericson Core’s new version I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “What’s the Point (Break).” I’m truly sorry for that, but it was unavoidable, and accurately sums up my feelings about this movie.

Core’s film is a flat, bland, joyless rendition of future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s original. The new version strips away all of the campy fun, imminently quotable dialogue, and the bromantic relationship between FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves in the original, Luke Bracey in 2015) and Bodhi (a role originated by Patrick Swayze and taken up by Edgar Ramirez, who tries to infuse the character with smolder, though the sparks fail to catch).

If you’re familiar with the concept of Point Break, you already know the basic plot. A young FBI agent trying to prove himself, Johnny Utah, must go undercover to catch a gang of extreme sports enthusiast criminals and gets in too deep thanks to the mysterious, charismatic leader, Bodhi.

This time around the scope and scale are amplified; instead of a gang of surfers robbing banks to finance their own version of the endless summer, the crew operates on an international stage with more of a Robin Hood, rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor approach. They embark on a series of eight trials designed to honor the Earth, give back to the world that we’ve taken so much from, and assuage the copious guilt of their first-world privilege.

Making everything bigger and cranking things up to the proverbial eleven is the method of operation from Point Break 2015. This film is about one thing and one thing only: massive action set pieces. Everything else is sluggish, tepid filler designed to move the audience from one neck-breaking daredevil feat to the next. The problem is these sequences often fail to deliver.

It’s not that Core, who also serves as cinematographer, doesn’t know how to shoot these scenes, it’s that the editing is off. We’re not talking about the rapid, lightning-fast cuts of someone like, say, Michael Bay, but there are simply more jumps than are necessary, and shots cut away when they should stay put. The stunt work is nothing short of incredible; people hurl themselves off of mountains like flying squirrels, dive out of airplanes, and hurtle themselves down the face of horrifyingly massive waves. But with a few exceptions—the surfing scenes are the notable exemptions—just when you start to settle into a shot, the film flips away.

This approach gives these scenes a jumbled, jarring feel. The footage is there, showcasing spectacular stunts and perilous locations, like Venezuela’s Angel Falls. If Core and company simply let shots play out longer these sequences could have been something spectacular and made up for the bland, lifeless framework of the story. But as it appears on screen, the editing clips the potential energy, hamstringing the excitement they could and should have added, making the action nothing more than serviceable and a bit annoying.

As the lead, Bracey is equally as wooden as his predecessor, but lacks the airhead charm that Reeves brought to the role. There’s the added change that, instead of a former football player turned FBI agent, in this version Johnny Utah is already an extreme sports athlete—a phrase you’ll hear over and over—so there are no fun, awkward scenes of him trying to fit in.

The Johnny Utah/Bodhi relationship is at the core of the original, but Kurt Wimmer’s straight-faced script misses out on the bond the two form, especially as Ramirez replaces Swayze’s radical seeker with empty spiritual and philosophical platitudes. Ray Winstone is hardly used as Johnny’s older FBI mentor, Pappas—don’t expect any Gary Busey-style mania here, this Pappas only exists so Johnny has an authority figure to report to. The remake pays lip service to the original by keeping a few names from the older gang members, like Roach (Clemens Schick) and Grommet (Matias Varela), though they, like the rest of the movie, are overly serious, one dimensional, and lack the dopey SoCal fun of their namesakes.

Teresa Palmer, the lone female presence in Point Break, may suffer worst of all. Where as Lori Petty’s Tyler in the original serves as a love interest, an introduction to the world of Bodhi and the rest, and an ostensible extreme sports mentor, Palmer’s Samsara—a name that’s comically on-the-nose—serves little to no purpose to the larger narrative. There’s no emotional connection, she and Johnny hardly have a relationship outside of an underwater dance when they meet, and the “payoff” scene that’s supposed to be jarring, evoke pain, and drive the protagonist forward does nothing of the sort. All of her scenes could be removed without impacting the rest of the movie at all.

Despite a number of high-octane extreme sports action sequences, nothing in Point Break is particularly thrilling. This is a Mountain Dew commercial stretched out to almost two hours, or a movie that could have opened around the turn of the millennium and served as a companion piece to Vin Diesel’s xXx and it’s ilk. Some viewers will cling to the stunts, but overall Point Break is a joyless retread that misses the point and doesn’t understand why people still love the weirdness and idiosyncrasies of the original. It’s almost impossible to watch this remake of Point Break and not ask, “What’s the point?” [Grade: D]

UPDATE 3/27/2024: Spurred on by the Road House remake, I went back and revisited Point Break 2015. While I didn’t hate it quite like I did on my initial viewing—primarily because some, and I emphasize the word some, of the action holds up well—it drives home how badly the filmmakers missed the point in that instance. (Sorry for the pun.) 


For all its flaws and faults, and there are many, Road House 2024 clearly understands what people enjoy about the original and capitalize on that goofy fun. On the other hand, the producers of Point Break jettisoned the bromance, Keanu Reeves’ awkward charm, and the fish-out-of-water narrative that makes the original so engaging, turning in an empty, lunkheaded shell of a facsimile. But whatever the surfing and suit-flying scenes are still pretty cool.

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