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Revisiting Point Break (1991)

There are movies and there are films. And if you’re lucky, you get to see a Point Break when you’re 17 years old.

The summer before my senior year was a doozy. I was working as a dishwasher at a dump in North Las Vegas called Gators. Being the lowest totem on the pole, I did everything in that club from cleaning dishes, mopping up puke, scrubbing bathrooms and looking the other way when drugs were being sold.

Not what you’d call a day at the beach.Unknown-3.jpeg

It was non-stop hustle. I’d bust my hump squeezing tip outs from the waitresses and bartenders. But the best way to make an extra buck was to run food to the other business in the area—especially the Blockbuster.

I was incredibly naïve because there was a time I thought working a Blockbuster was not just a good job but a career. I’d run sandwiches and wings over and they’d tip me either cash or movie swag.

And the best thing I ever got was a real-life Point Break movie poster.

Point Break stars Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. It’s about a rookie FBI agent named Johnny Utah trying to takedown a group of bank robbers nicknamed the Ex-Presidents. A reasonably sober Gary Busey is Angelo Pappas, Utah’s partner, and he is awesome. Everybody is so unbelievably cool in the movie that I was almost convinced I was watching a documentary. Lori Petty is at her Lori Pettyness. There’s a villain named Warchild, Swayze looks like a SoCal god and a Lyndon Baines Johnson mask never looked so good.

Best of all, John C. McGinley plays FBI Director Ben Harp (great name) chews up the scenery like a bastard. Dollar for dollar, I don’t think there’s a better actor out there. Here is a sample of some of his lines:

  • You’re a real blue flame special, aren’t you, son? Young, dumb and full of come, I know. What I don’t know is how you got assigned here. Guess we must just have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?
  • You know nothing. In fact, you know less than nothing. If you knew that you knew nothing, then that would be something, but you don’t.
  • Special Agent Utah! This is not some job, flipping burgers at the local drive-in! Yes! Your surf board bothers me! Yes! Your approach to this whole damn case bothers me! And yes! YOU BOTHER ME! And Pappas! Oh, for the love of Christ. How the hell did I even let you talk me into this whole bone-headed idea to begin with?
  • Why don’t you astonish me, shitbrains?

I’m always drawn to over-the-top characters and Ben Harp is one of the best. He rarely gets credit for being so bonkers intense, even when he has no business being so irrationally crazed. One of the best interactions in Point Break is when Harp questions Utah why the investigation is stalling.Unknown-4.jpeg

“Do you think that taxpayers would like it Utah, if they knew that they were paying a federal agent to surf and pick up girls,” Harp snaps. Utah, not one to leave well enough alone responds, “Babies.” Harp looks as if every vein in his face is going to explodes asks, “I beg your pardon?” Utah finishes with a snarky, self-congratulatory, “The correct term is babes, sir.”

I must have run that line a dozen times a night at Gators. The problem is that the airmen and bikers calling Gators home didn’t want to hear a word from me.

Unknown-2.jpegI revisited Point Break last night and had a couple of thoughts. Without a doubt, it’s hard to watch Point Break and not miss the hell out of Patrick Swayze. He was just so good in everything he did. I loved him Roadhouse, Ghost, Dirty Dancing, and even a little know film called, Next of Kin. He’s just so natural on screen and he’s such a handsome fellow. He was the perfect balance between hardcore and sensitive. With his beach blond hair and surfers body, he just looks like a guy searching the world for the perfect wave.  And the fact that he plays Bodhi and that Bodhi is short for Bodhisattva makes it all the more Swayze, which in itself is a great name. Even though he becomes a bastard through the story, it’s hard to watch Point Break and not think he was at the height of his powers.

Some other thoughts:

First, Point Break is really well shot. I’ve been to Southern California more times than I can count. Endless summers in San Diego and trips to Los Angeles come across almost every scene in the movie. Even the gross gas stations and dusty roadside cafes look so authentic you can almost taste the shrimp and fries. This was also before X-Games had taken over and the idea of getting out on the water was new. You really felt like you could surf after watching Point Break. Having gone out twice with a longboard to the small swells of Ocean Beach, I realized very quickly that surfing is a hell of a lot harder than it looks. But Kathryn Bigelow does a master’s class in action adventure. Makes sense that Zero Dark Thirty was such a great film.images-1.jpeg

Second, Keanu Reeves gets too much grief for his iconic line, “I am an FBI agent.” I’d argue that this is the line often associated with the movie. Most of the time, we’d say, “Uh-ma F B eye agunt,” or some variation of that. But in the context of the movie, it makes a ton of sense. Utah and Bodhi are at altitude in a twin prop airplane with the doors open, the adrenaline is flowing, and Lori Petty is in jeopardy. I challenge you to yell the same line with the windows rolled down in your call driving 65 mph without sounding a little like Keanu.

Third, not enough is made of the fact that Johnny Utah is one of the all-time best character names. And this has nothing to do with my love for my adopted state. It just sounds like a cool, badass guy. I think the only names that come close to Johnny Utah is Dwayne Hicks, Cole Trickle, Verbal Kint, Barton Fink, Indiana Jones, Pussy Galore, Snake Plissken, Buckaroo Bonzai, and Shaft. John Shaft, of course, is the gold medal standard.

 

But Johnny Utah just works. Bill Montana or Chris Michigan doesn’t have the same ring to it. Utah just sounds natural and when Pappas orders two meatball subs (Utah, Get me two!!) I can’t think of another state that would work.

More thoughts:

Nobody makes a better face than Anthony Keidis after being shot in the foot.

Tom Sizemore doesn’t even look like he’s acting. There’s a chance he thinks he’s really undercover.

Utah and Lori Petty laying on black satin sheets is pretty hot. And iconic. And natural.

I don’t eat nearly enough deep-fried shrimp and fries. And I don’t want to know what a meat waffle tastes like.

I’ve never drank tequila and taken a lime from a lady friend during a house party and I seriously doubt I ever will.

At 17, two meatball subs sounds like a lot of food. At 43, that sounds like a snack.

Warchild, Bunker, Tone and Archbold would have kicked the living shit out of me—with or without Bodhi’s help.

Why would any FBI agent have to find a rubber brick blindfolded in the bottom of a pool?

I seriously doubt I’d be nearly as composed skydiving with a twisted ankle.

Can you use a gas station pump as an impromptu flamethrower?

Australians are soft on crime. There’s no way LAPD would let a bank robbing criminal surf one more break before hauling him off to jail.

If they made the movie today (I don’t count the 2015 Point Break as cannon), the Ex-Presidents would be Obama, George W. Clinton and George Sr. I don’t think that is nearly as good as Reagan, Carter, Johnson and Nixon. I also wonder why they didn’t have a Gerald Ford in the mix. How did 38th President of the United States get looked over? Arguably, you can’t have bank robbing ex-presidents without Nixon—I am not a crook—but how about this for a new lineup? Trump, Nixon, Harding and Johnson #1? Probably too much inside baseball.

images-2.jpegAnd finally, why did they ever go to the vault?

I get that this was the last heist of the year, but if my arithmetic is correct, didn’t the Ex-Presidents take down like 20 banks that summer? Even if they only made $5K per heist (sounds about right to me) from the drawers, that’s over $100K. For guys that live on tacos, sex wax, rarely wearing shirts, driving beater cars, and crashing four deep in beach houses, why go to the vault?

In the moment, I get it. Bodhi wants one last heist to fund his once-in-a-lifetime wave. But did he go to the vault to prove to Utah that he is the ringmaster supreme? That nothing Utah did could stop him and that he was a living God? Or master criminal? Or was he just high on his own power and was taunting Utah that he can do and take whatever he wants?

Going to the vault is the equivalent of having sex in a teen horror movie—no good comes from it. Point Break is one of the few movies where I am actively rooting for the “bad guy” and then quickly root for the cops to take him down…hard. Bodhi goes from being good-natured to evil in that one moment. Forget the fact that he took Lori Petty hostage. In that moment, Bodhi loses his Bodhisattva title, forgoing helping others and seeks his own nirvana. Essentially, the moment Bodhi went to the vault, he became an unlikable prick and got his friends killed.

I guess you have to be greedy to seek the perfect wave. Surfing is a communal activity but an individual act. Going to the vault was more than being greedy—it was taunting the surf gods and Swayze paid the price for it.

Unknown-5.jpegI must have seen Point Break in the theater like five times that summer in 1991. Between the amazing action, cool plotline and bitchin’ poster I had—plus the fact that even the worst theater’s in Las Vegas had great air conditioning—it became one of my favorites. And the summer of 1991 had some great movies: Terminator 2, Boyz in the Hood, Robin Hood, Hudson Hawk, Thelma & Louise, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Man, come to think of it, Keanu Reeves has a lot of range.

Ben Raskin writes for USANA and pours drinks for Keys On Main. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He lost that movie poster somewhere between graduating high school and heading up to UNR. And he always makes it two!!

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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