IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 114 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Extreme sports athlete Johnny Utah loses his friend Jeff during a motorcross stunt. Seven years later, Utah is an FBI agent candidate. Three extremely dangerous and complex corporate heists have taken place, and Utah’s research concludes that they were done by the same men, a group of extreme sports enthusiasts who are attempting to complete the Ozaki 8, a list of eight extreme ordeals to honour the forces of nature. They have already completed three, and Utah predicts they’ll attempt the fourth on a rare sea wave phenomenon in France. He’s sent undercover to France under a field agent named Pappas to infiltrate the group, and is befriended by their leader, Bodhi….
There’s a bit in the 1991 action classic Point Break which always surprises me with its complexity in what is often considered a dumb action movie, if a very good one. The [thoroughly incompetent] ‘hero’ Johnny Utah has just failed to catch up with Bodhi at the end of that awesome foot chase and fired his gun into the air in anguish. He returns home and records a message to his girlfriend Tyler, whom he has used as a way to infiltrate the gang of surfers which he thinks is carrying out a series of bank robberies. Then suddenly the door bell rings, he goes to answer it and, thinking it’s Tyler, says her name, but upon opening the door realises that it’s Bodhi and his group instead. Utah know that the surfers are the bank robbers he’s been after, while the surfers know that he’s an undercover FBI agent. Utah knows that the surfers know he’s an agent, while the surfers know that Utah knows they’re the bank robbers. Neither Utah nor Bodhi wants to blow his cover and get too confrontational. Utah has befriended Bodhi but we are left with no doubt that he wants to put him away, but we feel genuinely hurt for Bodhi because he’s in a sense been betrayed, while also feeling afraid for Utah because we reckon Bodhi may want to kill him. And he both does and doesn’t try to kill him in the next scene, partly because Bodhi has a great liking for Utah, and perhaps partly for reasons that are not clear. And so the mind games continue.
You don’t get any of this in Ericson Core’s remake. The basic story is almost the same, but the situation doesn’t get anywhere near as involved, because this is 2016, and movies like this tend not to have room for subtlety, complexity or psychology nowadays. It’s all about making everything as simple as possible and spelling everything out, leaving no room for thought. By comparison with the above described situation, in this new version Bodhi suddenly ropes Utah in on his next heist just before he’s about to do it and the heist begins to go ahead until Utah blows his cover and tries to stop it, after which it’s just Utah chasing Bodhi all over the globe. The original movie made you wonder whether Bodhi thought Utah was a cop straight away but never confirmed nor denied it. In this one, you’re given the answer. The script for this one even goes so far as tell you what the title means. And that, I think, is the most important difference between the two movies, and why the new one is so inferior. The remake is not, actually, that bad, if taken on its own. If you read my review of the 1991 Point Break I posted a couple of weeks ago then you’ll be in no doubt as to my love for it, and I hope that in that review I made a decent case for its quality. Therefore I went into the 2015 version with much apprehension and expecting to truly hate it. In fact, I didn’t. Some bits of it are very well done and it doesn’t fall into the big trap of copying many of the original’s moments. However, it’s still all very average, lacking spark, and I was just left with a feeling of pointlessness.
It opens with a mountainous motorcross sequence that is actually quite stunning in both shooting and stuntwork and which really gets the film off to a strong start. Unfortunately, setting up Utah as an extreme sports enthusiast doesn’t really work for the story, as there’s no sense of excitement when, seven years later, as an FBI agent, rather than learning to surf, he muscles in on where there’s some surfing activity going on and immediately seems very good at it. There’s no sense of Utah ‘finding himself’ for the first time; instead, all you get is Utah rediscovering what he used to be good at, which is far less interesting. Said surfing sequence is tremendously exciting though, and seemed to be mostly real with just a bit of CGI enhancement, though the effects are so good I honestly couldn’t see the joins. Whatever its many faults as a movie, and despite the fact that it probably shouldn’t have been made at all [though apparently the script has been knocking around for some time and there was even a sequel to the original planned at one point], it does deliver in the action stakes, a wing suit sequence being truly thrilling and spectacular, though I doubt that I’ll remember any of these scenes after a while, unlike the sky diving scene in the original which had such a feeling of awe about it. The majority of this movie consists of Utah joining Bodhi and his buddies on ever-more-crazy activities, and having them being performed by extreme sports people means that what you’re seeing on the screen is mostly real, but nothing else in the movie is anywhere near as good, while all these scenes seem totally divorced from the main story, which is virtually forgotten about for long stretches.
This being 2015 [it was shot last year], these surfers are covered in tattoos, hold underground raves and are out to save the planet. We are immediately invited to sympathise with these robbers when we learn that the money that they steal they give to poor people, but the cod philosophy, which worked so well in the original film because it was there if you wanted it but was also somewhat tongue in cheek in nature and was easy to ignore if you wanted to, is repeated here, but here terribly po-faced and confusing. Bodhi says a load of guff about how doing things like skiing down a mountain helps the environment…or something….it’s hard to tell exactly what he means. This version attempts to be really serious and gritty, as is fashionable, though this approach is at odds with the ridiculousness of the story while of course there’s hardly any swearing or violence this time, one brutal fight excepted, a scene which is shot in as vomitous ‘shakycam’ as one can imagine. Core doesn’t go in for this technique much, but this is a modern action movie, meaning that you know you’re going to be made to feel sick at some point because of the stupid filming. Core, who also did his own cinematography, does shoot the majority of the action very well, though it’s obvious that he’s using different kinds of cameras at times.
Obvious CGI does raise its head during an avalanche sequence, while some of the non-extreme sports action stuff seems a bit half hearted, like a cable car set piece which for me set up expectations of some great Where Eagles Dare-style thrills but was over almost before it began. Taken on its own though, this Point Break does just about pass muster as a machine designed to do nothing but move forward and excite. It must have been working for me on some level because I was genuinely gasping during a rock climbing set piece near the end, though the film doesn’t then end when it should have done and sputters to a further climax where, again, CGI takes over, and not very well. And it’s just inferior to the original in most respects. Take the love interest. In the 1991 picture, we’re not sure how we feel about Utah using Tyler as part of his investigation, and we feel for Tyler when she finds out who he is. In the remake, the two become friends, then lovers, and that’s it. No secrets, no confession scene, no drama, nothing. It’s like they watered down all the best things about the original and just left us with a bunch of thrill sequences, which still wouldn’t be too bad if we cared about the people involved.
In fact both neither Luke Bracey nor Edgar Ramirez are very interesting in this movie and give almost half hearted performances in it. They also lack any chemistry together, which helps to remove another of the original film’s most intriguing aspects. Ray Winstone just seems lost. At least fans of the original get to see cast members James Le Gros and Bojesse Christopher in small roles, which is a nice touch, and the fact that it feels so different from it almost justifies its existence – it doesn’t slavishly copy the original – but not quite. This Point Break could have been worse, but in the end, once this remake has come and gone [and it doesn’t appear to be doing very well, not that that’ll stop studio bosses from probably thinking about remaking Speed….perish the thought….as I type], I reckon that there will only be one Point Break that, in years to come, will be talked about and loved and watched over and over again, and it’ll be the one with Keanu and Patrick.