Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Utah, an FBI rookie sent undercover to infiltrate a band of L.A. surfers who stick up banks while wearing rubber masks of Reagan, Nixon, Carter and Johnson. Utah is determined to bring down these ex-presidents; he’s that kind of dude. Bureau old-timers think Utah is “young, dumb and full of cum,” a big dis applicable to many of the characters in W. Peter Iliff’s airheaded script.
Reeves proves a resourceful actor, though, especially in his scenes with Gary Busey, playing a grizzled FBI veteran who sees Los Angeles as a place “where the air got dirty and the sex got clean.” He may be right. Reeves’s love scenes with the surfer chick played by Lori Petty — a flinty actress with gorgeous eyes — are merely dutiful.
Utah saves his fire for Bodhi, the surfer Zen master who feels he can harness the energy of a wave or a heist. As played by Patrick Swayze — giving his wholesome Ghost image a welcome rest — Bodhi wants to draw Utah into his own dark universe. But lines that have Bodhi extolling “the gift of blankness” leave Swayze up the surf with no board.
What saves Point Break from wipeout is Kathryn Bigelow’s direction. Though the film lacks the formal beauty and allure of her Near Dark and Blue Steel, Bigelow keeps the action percolating in high style. Perhaps the use of stunt doubles forced cinematographer Donald Peterman to shoot the surfing scenes in silhouette. The water action is murky and choppily edited. Bigelow is better at staging a raid on a drug house and a foot chase that ends with Utah’s head in dangerous proximity to a whirring lawn mower. Best of all are the sky-diving sequences — Swayze did over fifty of his own jumps — which take your breath away. Bigelow can’t keep the film from drowning in a sea of surf-speak. But without her, Point Break would be no more than an excuse to ogle pretty boys in wet suits.