Last week, Warner Brothers released two images from their upcoming remake of Point Break. As with any remakes, the Internet blew up claiming blasphemy and urging the rest of the World Wide Web to grab their digital pitchforks in anger, despite the images being fairly non-specific to Point Break “canon,” with exception to Edgar Ramirez being on a surfboard.
Based on the early reaction, it seems as though the movie will follow the same path as 2012’s remake of Total Recall and last year’s RoboCop. Having just seen the original for the first time, I understand the vitriol, especially since Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 movie holds up extremely well for being 24 years old. We have only seen two pictures though, so there isn’t any real reason to to take up arms yet.
For the most part, the reason for a remake is because it’s a pre-existing property and those tend to make more money than a new intellectual property. I’d also imagine that Warner Bros. is kicking themselves, as The Fast and The Furious follows the exact same plot as Point Break, right down to the Corona beers at the party. The Fast and Furious series has expanded to seven films, the most recent of which has made more than $1 billion after being out for less then month. To build a Point Break series out to seven films or more, the studio will have to get this new one right, which is no small task since Bigelow’s original is a classic.
My previous experience with the original movie consists entirely of watching Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) chase Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) through bystanders homes in a Contemporary American Film class in college. The teacher highlighted the third-person camera work Bigelow used to great effect, from the pair running between houses to the moment where Utah declares his love for Bodhi with 14 gunshots into the air. It’s this scene, along with Utah’s POV shot when he helps the Ex-Presidents with their final heist of the summer, which really puts Point Break a cut above the standard action, B-movies that would emulate it.
Also notable about the 1991 classic are the two relationships at the center of the movie. I’m not talking about the budding romance between Utah and Tyler (Lori Petty), but the partnership between Utah and Pappas (Gary Busey). For a movie that many remember as being about Utah and Bodhi, a lot of time is spent between Utah and his partner and the movie is better for it. Point Break creates a lot of momentum as the pair formulate and hatch their plan to infiltrate Bodhi’s team of surfers. It moves the first half of the movie briskly and is a pleasure for the audience to watch these two reluctantly pair up and seeing them work together to take down the heist team. The partners are far more fun to follow than Utah’s relationship with Bodhi.
Another aspect that the remake likely won’t capture from the original is the humor in the early stages of the movie. I’m not talking about the unintentional laughs that developed with the film’s cult status — “I AM AN F…B…I Agent!” — but the tertiary characters who had room to breathe. I imagine that John C. McGinley — who plays Utah’s superior, Agent John Harp — used his early scene as his audition reel for Dr. Cox on Scrubs 10 years later.
With the emphasis on a dark, gritty tone — especially from Warner Bros., who reportedly want a joke-less DC Comics cinematic universe — stuff like this will probably fall by the wayside in the remake. Sure, some of the jokes don’t hold up — including some of the most “Busey” moments, and the terrible impersonations to which the Ex-Presidents subject their victims — but the rest make for some genuinely funny scenes. It’s rare for us to get real-world action movies that are willing to show a humorous side, as most scripts treat comedy and drama as a binary issue.
If I had to pick one piece of the movie that doesn’t hold up well, it’s the characterization of Bodhi. This is one thing the unofficial remake, The Fast and The Furious, got right with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. As I mentioned, the relationship between Utah and Pappas is far more entertaining than that of Utah and Bodhi. However, the story needs us to believe Utah and Bodhi’s relationship would dictate every decision Utah makes in the last act. Yes, Swayze’s beach hair and eyes are mesmerizing, but they aren’t enough to convince me that Utah would (literally) throw it all away for him.
I love the way Utah and Pappas carry the first half of the movie, but ideally the remake would balance the two relationships better. With modern blockbusters all having a bloated 2.5 hour run time — the original is two hours — there’s no reason the new Point Break can’t oblige such improvements.
What’s more, I don’t know if the world of surfing is right for the remake. It’s a great way to pay homage to the original, but it almost seems too niche now compared to the late 80’s and early 90’s. I don’t know what would be the modern equivalent. Competitive video gaming comes to mind, but it doesn’t have the same element of danger. Maybe MMA is the way to go.
We don’t know how much the new Bodhi (Ramirez, with Luke Bracey playing Utah) will be a thrill-seeker, but scenes like the skydiving sequence won’t have the same spectacle, even if director Ericson Core (Invincible) better integrates the shots of the actors and their stunt doubles than the original did. I also assume the Ex-President masks will be updated to include Obama, Bush and Clinton.
Regardless of how the Point Break remake turns out, the original is still a classic that I would encourage everyone to check out if they haven’t. (Though I’m probably one of the last.) If for nothing else, it’s great to go back to Bigelow’s early works and see how she became the director of two of the best war movies of the last decade in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It’s also one of the essential Swayze roles and without the movie, Reeves might never have starred in Speed and in turn, The Matrix.
I don’t expect to see anything as innovative from Core as a director even if his cinematography background — which actually includes The Fast and the Furious — leads to some creative camera work. Hopefully, the new version at least attempts to reach the original’s heights, even though they are unreachable.