Some movies remain so original and fresh, they don’t need updates … and even though it got one anyway, “Point Break” is among those films.
It’s hard to believe the 1991 adventure-drama (which AMC shows Sunday, Jan. 9) is now more than 30 years old, since director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) invested it with as much energy as – and arguably more than – many present-day releases. Keanu Reeves went a long way toward establishing his action cred as Johnny Utah, a college athlete whose fame isn’t necessarily an asset in his new career as a Los Angeles-based FBI agent.
It doesn’t impress his boss (John C. McGinley) nor, at least initially, his veteran partner (Gary Busey) … until he gets a hunch about an elusive bank-robbery gang whose masks give the criminals the nickname The Ex-Presidents. Utah suspects the crooks are surfers, so he decides to immerse himself in that culture, seeking training in riding the waves from a reluctant and rebellious young woman (Lori Petty).
Through her, Utah eventually connects with her self-assured and somewhat mystical ex-boyfriend Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), whom Utah sees as a valuable source even if Bodhi himself should turn out not to be involved in the robberies. It’s not a leap to say that Utah is seduced by Bodhi and his followers, with one especially striking sequence taking the agent along with them in his sudden introduction to skydiving.
In fact, the cinematography (by Donald Peterman) and the editing (by Howard Smith) are two of the strongest suits of “Point Break” from start to finish. A year earlier, Bigelow directed the Jamie Lee Curtis police drama “Blue Steel” and showed the same knack for using those aspects to advance the story … but here, she impressively employs a much bigger canvas, including the entire sky at a couple of key points.
Reeves does a fine job of establishing the impulsive-hero image that also would serve him well several years later in “Speed,” while Swayze is downright magical in one of his best roles, one that it’s hard to imagine another actor matching (as was confirmed by this effort’s 2015 reboot). Credit also goes to Petty – commendably believable as she shows her resistant-at-first Tyler warming up to Utah as he tries to master the techniques that will be necessary for him to catch the bad guys – and to Busey, hugely likable as the world-weary sidekick grudgingly aiding Utah.
The original “Point Break” remains a terrific example of its genre, and much of its ongoing appeal is that you can sample its frequent and amazing stunts from the safe comfort of your chair.