On Point Break

The original Point Break is a far different film campared to it’s 2015 remake, about  former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback and rookie FBI Agent assigned to assist experienced agent and veteran, Angelo Pappas, in investigating a string of bank robberies by the “Ex-Presidents”; a gang of robbers that wear face-masks depicting former US presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter to disguise their true identities. They only raid the cash drawers in the banks that they rob—never going for the vault—and are out within 90 seconds. For Reeves, this film is before the success of The Matrix, and for Swayze, this is after Ghost had already been released.

The remake, featuring Luke Bracey as Johnny Utah and Édgar Ramírez as Bodhi is essentially a travesty film about homoerotic man-love, with a less-than-certain story. According to the Variety film review of the remake:

The sheer range of sports represented here through whiz-bang stunt choreography, all performed by champions in their field, may satisfy today’s attention-deficient audiences. For others, however, excitement will soon turn to overkill, and the level of tension dips considerably toward the end. For all the ponderous, hippy-dippy talk about healing Mother Nature and giving back to society, the eight Ordeals are not described in any comprehensible detail; nor do they relate directly to the gang’s actual feats.

In the 1991 version, surfing was an attitude and philosophy: Patrick Swayze’s gang of “ex-presidents” were blond, shaggy-haired airheads who used words like “get radical.” That they robbed banks to fund their lifestyle was a considerably more anti-establishment gesture, really, than the tortuous and patronizing actions of the new film’s bearded and brooding crusaders. Ironically, even though they insist that they’re not taking on these challenges for their own thrill, they pretty much ditch their charitable schemes by the last few Ordeals, while still retaining their tortured, self-righteous expressions. Their tract-dry dialogue barely rings true, and elicits little passion from those reciting it.

In contrast to Keanu Reeves’ choir-boy innocence at the time of filming, Bracey’s older, been-around image and jock physique affords him a more proactive role than that of a mere coming-of-age outsider. The weak link is Ramirez, who might have revealed greater dramatic heft if his character weren’t so flatly written; at any rate, he’s no match for Swayze’s cosmic dudeness. As the film’s only significant femme, Palmer is reduced to a sexual rather than love interest  for Utah.

Because the plot of the film is largely vacant, I can only say that, as before, it’s a film about homoerotic man-love, as according to The Telegraph’s article, “Point Break: all the best action films have powerful homoerotic undertones“:

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Guns. Explosions. Punch-ups. High-speed chases. Jumping off really high things without a parachute and somehow not dying. All staples of the action genre – and all present and correct in the remake of extreme sports heist movie Point Break, which rushes into cinemas like a shot of pure adrenaline this Friday.

But Point Break has something else integral to the action movie: a healthy streak of homoeroticism. In this case, it’s bubbling away beneath the impressive specimens that are villain Boadie (Édgar Ramírez), whose interests include snowboarding, wingsuit flying, and ripping off corporations for millions of dollars, and Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey), the totally rad FBI agent who goes undercover to stop him.

There’s a certain irony to it, of course, that the action movie – a big muscly bundle of supercharged masculinity, made largely for a heterosexual male audience – should have such powerful homoerotic undertones.

And that’s no bad thing. After all, isn’t that the point of an action movie? Isn’t it really just one big ultra-violent love letter to all things manly? And aren’t we better men for enjoying a bit of brazen man-love?

Point Break, of course, has learnt from the very best. The 1991 original is a big, burly landmark in homoerotic action – a sun-baked beach party full of bodacious surf, bank jobs, and all the bros together, bro. At its centre is the most shameless testosterone-soaked love-in between hetero men of all time: surfer dude bank robber Patrick Swayze and football player-turned-FBI agent Keanu Reeves.

On the surface, it’s like the World Manhood-Measuring Championships, escalating to the point where Keanu jumps out of an aeroplane sans parachute to prove who’s hardest. Beneath all the machismo though, they’re harbouring secret feelings of admiration for each other’s pulsing maleness. It’s arguably the greatest movie bromance of all time – despite being created back before we even knew what a bromance was.

Point Break is hardly an isolated case of rampant homoeroticism in action cinema. Think of all those oily, bulging muscles from the 1980s; the topless beach volleyball games and steamy locker rooms of Top Gun; Rocky and Apollo having a big cuddle in the sea after a particularly rousing montage; and the look-at-the-size-of-my-engine bravado of the Fast & Furious movies.

Some men would cry heresy at the idea of homoerotic sentiments rippling through their favourite action movies. I say fear not, lads, it’s good for you.

It might seem like the most brainless and superficial of all Hollywood genres, but the action movie is about much more than just guns, explosions, punch-ups, high-speed chases, and jumping off really high without dying (though, to be fair, all of those are top-notch).

It’s a celebration of male bonding and the male physical form – the kinds of things we might otherwise struggle to celebrate so openly. Especially us Brits, who still regard the firm handshake as a cornerstone of man-on-man intimacy, thanks to our inherited national identity – stiff upper-lipped and wrought with repression (cheers for that, dads).

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Indulging in – and dare I say, enjoying – the underlying homoeroticism of an action movie isn’t a betrayal of one’s red-blooded masculinity. Far from it. Even the most macho of men needs a little “man-time” to unwind. In other words, getting amongst the pack to reassert what being a man is all about, whether that’s bonding on the football terraces, getting together for a heavy pub session, or spending 90 minutes with your favourite action hero positively dripping in testosterone.

It’s not all as willfully camp as that though. The updated version of Point Break belongs to a generation of action films that are arguably more self-aware than their predecessors, which is true of the audience too.

So while it’s still built around Boadie and Utah, they’re not leg-scissoring each other mid-skydive quite so hard, or saying things like, “I know you want me so bad it’s like acid in your mouth”, without a shred of irony (even if the remake does boast plenty of ripped men’s bodies and the odd post-parachuting cuddle).

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But no matter how sophisticated and self-aware the action movie becomes, at its heart it’s essentially a thrusting juggernaut of homoerotic man-fun – a place where men can take their tops off, do loads of manly things together, and pummel their everyday hang-ups into oblivion.

It’s healthy to admit we love being men – and that we also love watching other, far more impressive specimens exert their masculinity in testosterone-fuelled fashion. It would be un-manly not to, bro.

 

According to Roger Ebert:

The bodhi tree, according to the Buddhists, is the tree beneath which one finds enlightenment. That is not exactly how it works with Bodhi, the surfing bank robber who is the existential hero of “Point Break,” but he is such a persuasive character that a young FBI agent falls under his spell. Or maybe it is Southern California itself that attracts the agent – that land of surf and skydiving and strange karma, so seductive to a square football hero out of Ohio.

The hero, who has the thankless name Johnny Utah, is played by Keanu Reeves as a former Rose Bowl star with a bum knee, who joined the FBI and has been assigned to Los Angeles. A series of bank robberies is frustrating the bureau. Four robbers who call themselves the Ex-Presidents, and wear rubber masks of Nixon, Carter, Reagan and LBJ, have pulled off a string of bank jobs and left not a single clue behind.

Except one. Johnny Utah is given a partner named Pappas (Gary Busey), who thinks the robbers may be surfers, because one has a tan line, and a strand of hair found at the crime was polluted with the same contaminants found at a popular surfing beach. So he convinces Utah to go undercover as a surfer and try to break the case.

This is some California movie, all right. The plot description I have just supplied could work just as easily for “The Naked Gun 3 1/2” as for “Point Break,” which takes it deadly seriously, even after adding several other preposterous developments like a guy who gets so mad, he jumps out of a plane without a parachute, free-falls until he can tackle a guy who has one, and then holds a gun to his head.

The movie was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, a stylist who specializes in professionals who do violence. She made “Blue Steel,” with Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop, and now here is Keanu Reeves in essentially the same role – a kid determined to prove himself, up against the twisted intelligence of a megalomaniac.

Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze, is part mystic, part criminal, and over-all surfer. From clues developed by Pappas, it appears that he and his gang rob banks to support their surfing, and then move on when the seasons change. Johnny Utah does become friendly with them, and even falls in love with Bodhi’s ex-girlfriend (Lori Petty), while trying to fit together the case. And then the plot grows truly ingenious, all the way down to its Zen ending on a lonely, storm-swept beach in Australia.

“Point Break” is not the kind of movie where we should spend a lot of time analyzing the motives of the characters. Once Johnny Utah realizes, for example, that Bodhi knows he’s an FBI agent – should he really go skydiving with him, and let Bodhi pack the chute? Such questions are fruitless, because the movie has Utah trapped in Bodhi’s spell, in which everything – free-falling, surfing, robbing banks – is part of catching the wave of life, looking for that endless ride.

Bigelow is an interesting director for this material. She is interested in the ways her characters live dangerously for philosophical reasons. They aren’t men of action, but men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs. That adds an intriguing element to their characters, and makes the final confrontation in this movie as meaningful as it can be, given the admittedly preposterous nature of the material.

Bigelow and her crew are also gifted filmmakers. There’s a footchase through the streets, yards, alleys and living rooms of Santa Monica; two skydiving sequences with virtuoso photography, powerful chemistry between the good and evil characters, and an ominous, brooding score by Mark Isham that underlines the mood. The plot of “Point Blank,” summarized, invites parody (rookie agent goes undercover as surfer to catch bank robbers). The result is surprisingly effective.

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