Film review: Point Break

Published: Wednesday, July 17 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

If "Point Break" were a B-movie instead of an A-movie, that is if it had a lower budget and an unknown cast, it would probably carry a more hysterical title . . . something like, "Surfing Bank Robbers Who Sky Dive!"

That would be an apt description — but so would "Endless Summer" meets "Lethal Weapon."

Get this: Patrick Swayze is Bodhi, a Zen-like California surfer who, with three buddies, robs banks during the summer months each year. They are smart, getting in and out of the banks quickly, wearing masks of former Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson — calling themselves "The Ex-Presidents." Then they use the money to travel the world looking for the perfect wave.

Swayze justifies this action by claiming a higher purpose. He explains that he wants to be better than "those dead souls inching across the freeways in their metal coffins."

Right.

Meanwhile, young, eccentric rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), who just happened to finish in the top of his class, is assigned to work in the California bank robberies division, being partnered with slovenly, bloated but street-wise veteran Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). (Now there's an original development.)

Pappas, it seems, has had a theory for some time that the bank robbers are surfers — something his colleagues openly scoff at. But Utah buys the idea and decides to go undercover, infiltrate the surfer society and try to nail the gang.

Naturally, he falls right into the lap of Bodhi and friends, quickly learning to surf and skydive. The way Reeves does it, one might conclude that all it takes is, respectively, standing on a surfboard in the water and jumping from an airplane.

The script, by first-timer W. Peter Iliff, has some interesting ideas, but it is so naive and unfolds so illogically that the "Oh, come on!" factor seems to be heightened by each new plot development. Add to that the cutesy character names and an over-abundance of self-consciously clever snappy patter, and you may begin to wonder if this wasn't really some silly 1960's script taken from the shelf and dusted off.

By the time Illif has ripped off the James Bond "Moonraker" scene that has a character jumping from a plane without a chute and the final moment from the original "Dirty Harry," the audience is likely to have given up completely on the story.

But there's no question that director Kathryn Bigelow ("Near Dark," "Blue Steel") is a stylish artist with an understanding of how much gorgeous lighting and color can mean to a film's texture. And she makes "Point Break" better by serving up chilling surfing sequences and thrilling skydiving scenes, where it is obvious that Swayze, Reeves and other cast-members actually surf and skydive rather than relying completely on stunt doubles. Not to mention a pair of tension-filled bank robberies and a foot-chase that will leave you breathless.

Even Bigelow's best scenes, however, are occasionally undercut by her penchant for close-ups and MTV-style edits that confuse the audience about what exactly is happening during chaotic moments.

In fact, "Point Break" has so many interesting isolated elements, it becomes frustrating that the film as a whole falters so badly.

"Point Break" is rated R for considerable violence and profanity, with vulgarity, nudity, drug abuse and a discreet sex scene. — Chris Hicks