It’s almost impossible to avoid a terrible pun about the remake of the 1991 cult action favorite Point Break, so apologies in advance. Watching director Ericson Core’s new version, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “What’s the Point (Break)?” It accurately sums up my feelings about the movie.
Core’s film is a flat, joyless rendition of future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s original. The update strips away the campy fun, imminently quotable dialogue and the bromantic relationship between FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves in the original, Luke Bracey in 2015) and Bodhi (a role originated by Patrick Swayze and taken up by Edgar Ramirez, who tries to infuse the character with smolder, though the sparks fail to catch).
The plot remains the same: A young FBI agent trying to prove himself, Johnny Utah, must go undercover to catch a gang of extreme sports enthusiast criminals and gets in too deep thanks to the mysterious, charismatic leader, Bodhi. This time around the scope and scale are amplified; instead of a gang of surfers who rob banks to finance their own version of the endless summer, the crew operates on an international stage with more of a Robin Hood, take-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor approach. They embark on a series of eight trials designed to honor the Earth, give back to the world we’ve taken so much from, and ease the copious guilt of their first-world privilege.
Cranking things up to the proverbial 11 is the mode of operation for Point Break 2015. The film is about one thing and one thing only: the massive action set pieces. Everything else is sluggish, tepid filler designed to move the audience from one neckbreaking daredevil feat to the next. The problem is that these sequences often fail to deliver.
It’s not that Core, who also serves as cinematographer, doesn’t know how to shoot these scenes, it’s that the editing is off. They aren’t the rapid, lightning-fast cuts of someone like, say, Michael Bay, but there are simply more jumps than are necessary, and shots cut away when they should stay put. The stunt work is nothing short of incredible; people hurl themselves off of mountains like flying squirrels, dive out of airplanes, and hurtle themselves down the face of horrifyingly massive waves. But with few exceptions—the surfing scenes and flying suit sequence among them—the film flips away just when it starts to settle into a shot.
The approach gives these scenes a jumbled, jarring feel. The footage is there, showcasing spectacular, perilous locations, like Venezuela’s Angel Falls. Had Core and company simply let shots play out longer, these sequences could have excused the bland framework of the story. But the editing clips any potential energy, hamstringing the excitement and making the action nothing more than serviceable.
As the lead, Bracey is just as wooden as his predecessor but lacks the airhead charm Reeves brought to the role. There’s the added change that, instead of a former football player turned FBI agent, in this version Johnny Utah is already an extreme sports athlete—a phrase you’ll hear over and over—so there are no fun scenes of him awkwardly trying to fit in.
The Johnny Utah/Bodhi relationship is at the core of the original, but Kurt Wimmer’s straight-faced script misses out on the bond the two form, especially as Ramirez replaces Swayze’s radical seeker with empty spiritual and philosophical platitudes. Ray Winstone is hardly used as Johnny’s older FBI mentor, Pappas. Don’t expect any Gary Busey-style mania here—this Pappas exists only so Johnny has an authority figure to report to. The remake pays lip service to the original by keeping a few names from the older gang members, like Roach (Clemens Schick) and Grommet (Matias Varela), though they, like the rest of the movie, are overly serious, one-dimensional, and lack the dopey SoCal fun of their namesakes.
Teresa Palmer, the film’s lone female presence, may suffer worst of all. Whereas in the original Lori Petty’s Tyler served as a love interest, an introduction to the world of Bodhi and co., and an ostensible extreme sports mentor, Palmer’s Samsara—a name that’s comically on-the-nose—serves little to no purpose in the larger narrative. There’s no emotional connection, they hardly have a relationship outside of a meet-cute underwater dance, and the “payoff” scene that’s supposed to evoke pain and drive the protagonist forward does nothing of the sort. All of her scenes could be removed without impacting the rest of the movie at all.
Despite a number of high-octane action sequences, nothing in Point Break is particularly thrilling. It’s a Mountain Dew commercial stretched out to almost two hours, or a movie that came out around the turn of the millennium and served as a companion piece to Vin Diesel’s xXx and its ilk. Some viewers will cling to the stunts, but overall Point Break is an uninspired retread that fails to grasp why people still love the weirdness and idiosyncrasies of the original. What’s the point?
Director: Ericson Core
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Luke Bracey, Edgar Ramirez, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo, Matias Varela, Clemens Schick
Release Date: December 25, 2015