Point Break

I was a member of the debate team for a couple of years when I was growing up, and I loved it. I've always been an argumentative person, and having to prepare both a pro- and a con- argument on a given issue naturally suited my nature as a devil's advocate. There's something liberating about being able to switch back and forth between sides in a debate, even if you do know in your heart of hearts that one side is better than the other.

So, in the spirit of the debate club, I am going to present a pro- and a con- argument in favor of the thesis that "Point Break is Totally Awesome."

Let's do the Pro first.

Point Break is 1991 action movie about an FBI agent named Johnny Utah who is on the trail of some bank robbers who always wear President masks when they pull a job. The Presidents are total pros: they've always scouted the bank ahead of time, they are always in and out of the bank in less than ninety seconds, and after they've robbed a bunch of banks in a row they disappear for months on end. Utah's only clue? One time they left a bootprint that had some surf wax on it. Utah's partner takes the surfwax clue and the timeline of the jobs they've pulled (which is consistent with surfers who are making the global wave riding circuit) and decided that the Presidents are secretly surfers who are robbing banks to pay for their trips around the world. That means that Johnny Utah is going to have to go undercover in the world of hard partying board-riders if he's ever going to catch his men...

Now, that plot might sound silly. Some might even call it ridiculous. It is, in fact, Totally Awesome, because it is ridiculous, but the movie plays it totally straight. The combination of a plot that wouldn't be out of place in a Mountain Dew commercial and an absolutely serious tone allows the movie to be a kick-ass action movie while also being a satire of action movies. In that regard, it is reminiscent of Robocop, which was intended by it's director Paul Verhoven to mock American's love of violence, but which appealed to a lot of Americans who didn't get the joke but who liked it anyway because it was super violent. A similar thing is happening in Point Break: the movie is riffing on the masculine cliches of action movies while also indulging in a lot of aggressively masculine stunts.

You can find a lot of good writing about the film's homoerotic subtext, and that sort of subversiveness is kind of awesome - but we're trying to prove that the film is Totally Awesome, so I want to take that point and make it a bit stronger. Taking a traditional cops versus robbers story and then adding that layer of subtext doesn't take anything away from the visceral side of the movie - skydiving scenes look cool regardless of whether or not they're metaphors for people who are "taking the plunge" - but it does make the movie both more interesting and more funny. Point Break plays it's cards close enough to the vest that it doesn't feel like it is in scare quotes, but it definitely does have a layer of irony and meta-commentary that makes it a rewarding watch even after the initial thrill of the incredibly choreographed robbery scenes has worn off. 

Basically, Point Break simultaneously pleasures your dumb lizard brain and the smart part of your brain that thinks your dumb lizard brain is dumb - which means that it's a good movie to watch if you want something that's mindless fun, but it's also layered enough to be worth dissecting if you feel like putting on your thinking cap. And that is Totally Awesome.

The main con to the movie is simple: Johnny Utah is played by Keanu Reeves, and Reeves has always been known for being.... well, wooden is a nice way to say it. His deadpan style can be effective if it's used in the right context, but Point Break isn't necessarily that context. For one, the script is full of stilted dialogue - Utah has to scream "shit!" after something bad happens about forty times in the movie - and Reeves doesn't necessarily have the dexterity to play both sides of the irony / sincerity line.

It also doesn't help that Reeves is paired against Patrick Swayze, who is playing the main bank robber, a platitude spewing thrill junkie named Bodhi. Swayze was born to play Bodhi, because he excels at characters that are simultaneously laid back and very tough, which is perfect for a chilled-out bro by day armed robber by night character. Swayze kills the role, bringing huge amounts of charisma to a character that's (quite frankly) not entirely believable. When Reeves is opposite Swayze it often feels imbalanced, because Swayze is bringing so much more energy to his role, and that imbalance is a problem, because the movie is basically about their friendship/rivalry/homoerotic tension.

But here's the thing about Reeves' performance: remember the comparison I made a little bit ago to Robocop? Well, was Robocop played by an actor who had a lot of range? No, Peter Weller was stone-faced as hell in that role. So if you want to get over how stiff Reeves is as Johnny Utah just think of him as a Robocop whose cybernetics you can't see and everything is fine. In fact, I actually don't mind Reeves in this movie, but I still like pretending that he's secretly Robocop, because I'm always happy with the idea of extra Robocops.

Look, I know this was supposed to be doing the con argument in this section, but I can't do it anymore. Maybe I'm just a bit rusty because it's been so long since I did a real debate, but my heart's just not in it. There's only one side to this debate and we both know it: Point Break is Totally Awesome, case closed.

Winner: Me

Point Break on IMDB