If an extreme-sports athlete performs an incredible feat but his face is digitally replaced before audiences see it, did the stunt even happen? Characters in the “Point Break” remake would say spectacular feats of derring-do aren’t just for show; they’re a way of getting in touch with the Earth. Physical displays of prowess can possess inherent value, regardless of the presence of observing eyes, if the intention is pure.
Those characters would probably hate the movie they’re in, a shallow, crass, and blunt ode to extreme sports that talks an embarrassing game about spirituality and cannot even make legitimate physical performances feel like achievements. Muddled by a non-existent attention span, “Point Break” can’t even commit to being a simple celebration of all things physical.
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The original “Point Break,” directed with panache by Kathryn Bigelow, is a cartoonish cop adventure that has aged surprisingly well. Credit Bigelow’s work and the self-aware but not-ironic performances from Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Petty, and Gary Busey, among others. There’s also spectacular long-lens cinematography from Donald Peterman, capturing foot and car chases, not to mention surfing, with an eye more attuned to movement and experience than raw data.
All of which is to say that the original “Point Break” had charisma and charm to spare, and a glimmer of a soul hidden under the action-movie trappings. Sure, chuckle as the characters talked about their spiritual connection to surfing, but the whole confection is entertaining.
The new film is…well, it is occasionally technically beautiful, in a sense. “Point Break” has plenty of landscape shots that would look great on those 2,000-piece puzzles the family does on holidays to keep everyone too busy to bring up politics. The stunt work is often good and periodically great, especially a wingsuit flight down a mountainside and through a canyon.
Yet the images have no “feel;” they’re captured with all the heart and intuition of a pretty good commercial for energy drinks. The camera goes way up in the air to join the actors on distant summits most of the audience will never reach, but it never sees with any clarity, just a blank basilisk stare that turns the characters to stone.
This film’s version of hero Johnny Utah came of age as a daring if none-too-bright extreme athlete who, in the opening scene, leads a friend to his death. Cut to seven years later, when Utah has convinced himself that he wants to be an FBI agent, even if he hasn’t quite convinced the officer (Delroy Lindo) who has the power to post him in the field. What does Utah really want? Great question; don’t expect an answer.
Wouldn’t you know it, Utah’s extreme sports past helps him understand a series of strange and daring criminal acts that have baffled the FBI. Utah convinces Lindo’s agent that he can get close to the extreme athletes behind the crimes, and jets off to find them.
What Utah gets into is a surfing sequence set way out in the middle of the ocean, where practical photography is clearly embellished with digital work. (The embellishment becomes easier to spot as the movie goes on; the final confrontation between Utah and bad guy Bodhi looks like a “Metal Gear” video-game cutscene.) Yep, the first major set piece of this film basically tries to pick up where the original movie ended. The legit surfing footage is great, but the assembly into a goofy set piece doesn’t work. There’s no sense of any power or danger from the ocean.
On a party boat run by a billionaire who, judging by his parties, has clearly seen all the “Fast and the Furious” movies, Utah meets Bodhi, the not-quite-Zen leader of the criminal gang. The film knows that we know who the character is supposed to be, which might explain why it never bothers to make him magnetic or even interesting.
At least Edgar Ramirez tries to do his own thing rather than aping Patrick Swayze, which is more than can be said for Luke Bracey’s performance as Johnny Utah. Ramirez has been very, very good in the past, but here he’s got little to work with, and judging by the way other actors fare, probably little relatively support from the editors.
For reasons that never make sense, Bodhi accepts Utah into his gang, and they begin extreme-sporting together. Just don’t call it a bromance; the idea that any of these characters are people who could develop attachments to one another is as preposterous as every other turn of the plot. The editing (credited to three people) lurches from one set piece to another, always prioritizing beauty and party shots above dialogue and character.
Teresa Palmer is in the movie, too. Her role is limited to contributing to delivering lines that would work well for motivational posters and offering up some exposition. Perhaps there’s a cut of the film or a version of the script where Palmer really has something to do, more fully emulating the character played by Lori Petty in the original. Maybe all the characters have more to do in that theoretical version. Not in this one, however.
According to the plot, Bodhi’s crew is attempting to perform a series of eight extreme-sports achievements. The set, as more than one character says, is impossible. But these guys are on the fourth one before there’s any hint of real difficulty, and the sixth before some genuine peril comes into play. Utah, who has been out of the sports game for years and maybe had more guts than talent, jumps right in and barely has to struggle to complete tasks that evidently everyone in the extreme-sports world considers to be the most difficult in the world.
To answer an important question, yes, in the “Point Break” remake Johnny Utah 2.0 does fire his gun in the air while he goes “aaaagh!” as Bodhi makes his escape, just as in the original. The moment doesn’t play as anything but a nod to the original film, however, because at no point in this film does any sort of connection ever form between Utah and Bodhi. But this “Point Break” doesn’t ever connect with anything, even its own desire to celebrate the extreme. [D]