Actions films aren’t really serious cinema, any more than westerns and romances are serious literature. I’m not knocking any of them, just saying that the genres in general demand such titillation that they crowd out that other stuff like drawing the audience’s empathy through setting a believable stage for the tale. Some action films, like the first Die Hard, are well-written enough to rise about their genre. Point Break doesn’t. That said, it’s still a lot more fun than a generic action flick, since there’s so much love in it. It’s one of the best of the 80s and 90s action movies, full of the kind of creativity and fun that distinguish it from the far more soulless action movies we get nowadays.
The film continues the proud tradition of cheap 80s action movies — the so-broad-it’s-vague title, the poorly paired law officers who learn to appreciate each other, the surly boss, the charmingly fake blood — and mixes in one vital element that keeps the whole thing fresh: an obsession with surfing. It’s not just about surfers, it’s about Keanu Reeves’ special agent Johnny Utah unexpectedly gaining a love of surfing while tracking down bank-robbing surfers just as obsessed with it, ending as he quits the force. Scenic shots of the surf start the film, end the film, and show up a ton in between: we’re meant to love surfing just as much as our heroes. Since the film gives itself over so much to Patrick Swayze’s character’s notions of surfing as a way of life, it’s possible for a viewer to get just as swept up.
The supporting actors give the movie a lot, too: Gary Busey is cranky and unhealthy as Utah’s partner, and John C. McGinley makes a particularly sarcastic surly boss. Lori Petty has an entertaining voice. The sense of fun about the film is inherent in the script, with a scene where Keanu gets a sandwich while on a stakeout and manages to miss a bank robbery looking like something out of a straight comedy. I was further amused that the fact that one of the bank robbers enjoys mooning people turned out to be a major plot point, played for drama. Add the sky diving and the fact that the robbers use rubbery caricatured masks of formers presidents and call themselves “the Ex-Presidents,” and you have a quirky, genre-bending action-thriller-extreme sports film. It might not be timeless, but if you enjoy action films, it’s up there.