How ‘Point Break’ Perfectly Balances Ironic and Sincere Awesomeness
Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze form the perfect ironic and sincere yin yang in their 1991 surfing action classic!
For the past 15 years of my life, whenever anyone has asked me what my favorite movie is, I’ve always had the same answer: Point Break (1991). Sadly since 2015 I’ve had to explain that I don’t mean the reboot (and this is the last we’ll mention of that awful iteration for the rest of this article).
Most people, when they hear it, will laugh, smile and agree that Point Break is truly awesome. These are the people I consider my friends. However, I meet a lot of other people who seem a little surprised or shocked at the notion. And I often feel that – for both of our sakes – that I need to explain myself.
It often boils down to my belief that Point Break most accurately embodies the perfect fusion between ironic and sincere movie watching enjoyment. The Ultimate Action Movie Club is built on the same principles. What makes some movies “bad” to some, can also make it “ultimate” to others. It’s just a matter of how one defines their own enjoyment.
Point Break is both a beautiful mix of both the “bad” and the “good” – or the “ultimate” and the “awesome” as I’d say. It has some truly amazing and truly awful performances. Some great action, some insane stunts, and some of the most famous one liners ever.
So, in appreciation of the perfect combination of all which is ultimate and good in the ultimate action movie world, let’s break down the ironic and sincere greatness that is Point Break.
Ironic: Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey as Buddy Cops
In true 1990s postmodern action film fashion, Point Break incorporates several action genres into one. It’s a surfer extreme sports movie, it’s an inside man gang infiltration movie, and it’s a buddy cop action comedy.
First Keanu Reeves is horribly miscast against type where he is supposed to be the straight-laced, starch shirt by-the-book bureaucrat who we’re supposed to be SURPRISED to see that JOHNNY is the one that takes on the airhead surfer persona for sake of their mission.
(It’s important to note that not only did Reeves star as Ted in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure two years early, he actually reprised the role in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey the same year that Point Break came out.)
Gary Busey on the other hand is more correctly cast as the outlandish, do-whatever-it-takes roughneck agent. And he delivers one of his peak Busey performances bumbling through scenes with the energy of a caged raccoon.
But as FBI Director Ben Harp (John C. McGinley) is quick and often to point out, they’re both incredibly terrible at their jobs. Pursuing wrong leads, staying out all night surfing and sleeping in on their own busts, and missing bank robberies while reading Ziggy cartoons.
Sincere: The Greatness of Patrick Swayze
Yet if Point Break has one ultimate saving grace, it’s the truly magical performance by Patrick Swayze as the Bodhisattva – aka Bodhi. It’s really and truly the role Swayze was born to play.
While portraying Dalton in Road House will always be his most recognized legacy, Swayze is perfect for channeling the same calm, collected, and spiritual sensuality into the surfer sage gang leader who flies just a little too close to the sun to truly be appreciated in his time. (Except of course by Johnny Utah, who lets him go in the end to fulfill his surfer destine.)
Ironic: The Surfing Scenes
One aspect in which Point Break wipes out though, has to be in its surf scenes. Although, I’ll be quick to grant the director and her team the benefit of the doubt on this one (for the most part the direction is one absolutely masterful throughout).
One: filming surfing footage is difficult. You have to be out in the water. It’s hard to “manufacture” waves or create ideal shooting setups. I have distinct memories of a Disney channel movie called Johnny Tsunami which struggled with many of the same types of scenes.
Shooting dialogue out while surfing is even harder. Even with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze being adept enough to appear in many of their own stunts, there aren’t a lot of “home run” shots of the two gleaming the cube.
The most atrocious scenes have to be the night surf sequence in which Johnny Utah is goaded into joining Bodhi and his entourage for some “pitch black” surfing – which results in Utah hooking up for Tyler for the first time.
As those who have been in the ocean at night time – even a few feet off the shore – can attest, you’re in complete darkness. This is incredibly hard to film and very unsafe I would imagine, so as you can expect, you can obviously tell they shot the night scenes at night and applied day-for-night blue coloring. You can see the sun in several shots!
Sincere: Kathryn Bigelow’s Action Scenes
But, as mentioned above, Point Break is a phenomenally well directed movie by eventual Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. I’d say it even rivals the work of Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron’s Terminator 2 – as the two share many similar action sequences and high octane chases.
It’d be hard to rank all the ultimate action scenes in Point Break (maybe we’ll save that for a later article), but to name a few that stand out:
- The iconic Johnny Chasing Bodhi on foot scene
- The preceding car chase with Gary Busey on their tale
- The skydiving showdown
- The final bank robbery that goes wrong sequence
- The raid of the wrong house scene (and subsequent lawn mower fight scene)
- The shower fight scene with Anthony Kiedis
Every single one of these sequences is absolute perfection. I wouldn’t change a single thing in any of them. They all start off with an ultimate kick in the face and steadily raise the suspense and the stakes with engaging direction and edge of your seat action.
Ironic: Keanu Reeves and his Doppelgänger Lori Petty
There’s just something odd (yet beautiful perhaps) about Johnny Utah’s relationship and his mark Tyler Endicott. They look like the could pretty much be twins. In several scenes – especially the aforementioned night surfing shots – it’s really hard to tell them apart. Both with their androgynous haircuts and slim figures.
Not to knock Lori Petty’s performance, as she’s in peak ‘90s mode at this point in her career. A League of Their Own and Tank Girl star is most notable to me, at least, as “Jones” in the Pauly Shore flick In the Army Now of all things. Yet, their odd doppelgänger relationship is just another odd casting choice that creates some funny scenes and confusions.
Sincere: The Fastest 122 Minutes in Cinema History
Going back to Bigelow’s directing once again, you may be surprised to learn that Point Break clocks in at 122 minutes (2 minutes over 2 hours). Which isn’t a particularly noteworthy time except for the fact that every time I’ve ever watched Point Break (which has been about once a month for the past 12 years for me) I swear it feels like it’s 60 minutes long flat.
The movie just ZOOMS by – and I mean that in the best way. It’s so gripping and engaging that the three acts blend together so seamlessly that you hardly notice how far you’ve made it in the film before it’s pretty much done.
And that 3rd act. That 3rd act! Starting pretty much around the time Johnny hits the ground from skydiving with Bodhi and crew and his world gets flipped on him with the news of Tyler’s kidnapping – BAM the game is afoot and you’re in for a full throttled race to the finish!
Ah, now we get to the skydiving! The skydiving sequences in Point Break are so beloved, iconic and unbelievable that the TV program Mythbusters dedicated an entire episode to Point Break and its skydiving exploits.
And it should come as no surprise to anyone that some of the facts of these scenes are beyond unrealistic. Mythbusters easily disproved that two people could engage in high-stakes character conversation while skydiving. As well as thoroughly debunked the amount of time that Johnny and Bodhi spend in the air as impossible from the most stretched altitude launches.
Yet, those scenes are so amazing! They’re some of the most breathtaking skydiving shots this side of Mission Impossible – Fallout – and even those might not even live up to Point Break’s ultimateness.
According to the IMDB trivia page, Patrick Swayze (who we all know was already an accomplished skydiver) made over 50 jumps for the filming of those sequences – the majority of which were against the wishes of producers and the film insurers.
Ironic: The 50 Year Storm
Honestly, it’s kind of a stretch for me to call Bodhi’s “50 year storm” ironic because it just sounds so badass. But, it’s also just awesome and funny how they introduce the whole concept of the “ultimate” surf early in the film where the beach campfire falls into a hush at its mention. You just know it’s going to come back later, and of course, Johnny, knowing Bodhi as deeply as he does, instantly knows that’s where he has to find him at the end.
Which then leads to one of the most greatest final showdowns ever. Of course it makes no sense. There’s no way Utah would still be on the case. Much less operating in pursuit of Bodhi for several years, with the complete support of multiple international agencies behind him.
And for him to finally catch Bodhi, but still surprise no one when he let’s him ride off to his ultimate demise!
Sincere: “Vaya Con Dios”
Yet, it happens. And it’s awesome. And it gives us the most ultimate one-liner in action movie history. It’s a perfect summation of their journey together, albeit both ultimately ironic and ultimately sincere. It doesn’t really matter any more. It’s just awesome.
Vaya con dios Point Break.
Vaya con dios!
What are your favorite moments from Point Break (1991)? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!