Lawyers Don't Surf!: Point Break (1991)

The bad movie is a beloved area of movie going and cinephilia all its own.  Between movies with cheesy special effects and some of the worst acting conceivable, one has a wide array of options to view, if they are prepared to completely disavow any respect for cinematic tradition.  Now, these films are treated for their absurd nature with love, many receive far more care and distribution than monumental art house films whose demand simply does not match that of The Toxic Avenger or the bizarre film that is The Room.  These works usually traipse the line of new director establishing themselves and being created on a shoestring budget as passion projects by a group of friends.  Bad movies are bad, but notably they are not cinematic masterpieces.  I would have adhered to this ideology with such a strong voice only yesterday at this time, but then I watched Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 action/surf/buddycop/romatic drama that is Point Break and was required to completely reorganize my understanding of bad movies.  Point Break is everything that should not exist is a respectable piece of cinema blown about over a two hour window, emphasized by hokey camera shots and enough overly forced dialogue to make even these least sensible person to the art of acting cringe.  Pair this with what has to be one of the more curious studies of masculinity and male desire committed to film and I would argue that Bigelow is knowingly creating a terrible film as a means with which to call attention to the medium and the genre itself, appropriating a variety of different genres that deal with masculine identity as a means to critique the genre and show the latent homoeroticism at play in movie going.  Since this film, it would be hard to establish the identity of Kathryn Bigelow as a decidedly feminist filmmaker, one working within the space of masculine war areas to look at issues of identity.  While Zero Dark Thirty is quite a promising departure from her earlier fare, Point Break may well be her masterpiece, if only for its unapologetic attachment to all things bad in cinema as a means to crack into a larger commentary on what is truly terrible about the relationships of viewers and film.  It might have been purely accidental, but Point Break is a post-modern stroke of cinematic negation and deconstruction in the most veiled and backdoor means imaginable.

Point Break focuses on the relocation of burgeoning FBI agent and former football star Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) a poised, but notably green behind the years guy, who wants to quickly make a big name in the department to move into higher positions.  While Utah is far from pleased with his location matters are made slightly worse when he is assigned with the veteran cop and general wise ass Pappas (Gary Busey) who seems more concerned with playing into conspiracy theories within the department, particularly with their to the books boss Ben Harp (John C. McGinley).  Nonetheless, Utah and Pappas are assigned to work on a case of bank robberies, undertaken by the group known as The Ex-Presidents, a moniker attached for their wearing of presidents masks while enacting the robberies.  While the department has very little to go on regarding the identities of the members of the group, there is a strong indication that their whereabouts are somehow tied to a beach outside of Los Angeles.  As such, both Utah and Pappas are designated to go undercover and discover exactly who is involved in the ordeal, or at the very least to find information regarding the whereabouts of The Ex-Presidents.  Under the guise of being a lawyer interested in surf lessons, Utah finds an in through a local surfer girl named Tyler (Lori Petty) to whom he takes to desiring almost instantly.  It is by Tyler's extension that Utah meets Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) discovering in him a source to all the going-ons in the beach, as well as a friend.  Indeed, Utah seems almost as enamored with Bodhi as he is Tyler, finding his own drive to catch the perfect ride almost saintly.  While Utah continues to chase down leads on the possible members of The Ex-Presidents when a chase and gunning down of a series of neo-Nazi's proves a bust, a minor incident leads Utah to become certain that it is indeed Bodhi and his friends who have been undertaking the crimes all along, putting the still learning cop in a compromising position between friendship and the law.  One that goes sky high in its ambitions and crashes hard in its final outcome.  All with the variants of bro being thrown out along the way.

Sure it would be delightful to just go into the almost impossible incessant variations on the possible spellings of Reeves' and Swayze's respective pronunciations of "bruh," and I am sure this has become a drinking game by this point, but I do have an earnest curiosity directed towards the way in which language, look and performance all sort of coalesce within the space of Point Break to become a dynamic and deconstructed understanding of the male body on display in film and by extension how that male body shares in looking at other bodies both dietetically and non-diegetically.  If one were to read the synopsis for Point Break or to look at the poster, it seems like rather straightforwardly a buddy cop and/or law/justice type narrative, but the reason this film works on a distinctly different level is that it spends so much time--perhaps unnecessarily so--on considering the relationship between Utah and Bodhi, one that often goes unspoken and still possesses a high degree of sexual longing.  The initial encounter between Utah and Bodhi comes at Bodhi's confusion as to why Tyler is now clinging onto the newly present surfer, seeming as though he is jealous of her affections being relocated.  However, this sequence is immediately followed by a game of football where Utah is able to show off his skills athletically, all which culminates in his tackling of Bodhi into the shore of the beach.  While Bodhi's friends call foul, this aggressive touch by Utah seems to awaken a mutual desire between the two, as though the sport allowed them a figurative sexual encounter that goes unspoken throughout rest of the film, emphatically shared when Utah allows the fleeing Bodhi to continue climbing a fence and never stopping him with gunfire.  His hesitation occurs only after the two share an impossible locking of eyes from a great distance.  Other focusing on the male body in curious ways takes precedence over the accidental looking at women that comes after the encounter on the beach, particularly in the scene of the Nazi house bust, where women in the shower are only caught through passing glimpses or mirrored surveillance.  It would suggest that Utah now only cares about looking and watching Bodhi and by extension so should the viewers.  The closing moments of Bodhi's limp body falling into the ocean, juxtapose Utah's own birth-like sequence earlier in the film, one awakening and the other violently repressing.  It is a Freudian "wet" dream if you will, all played out under the guise of simple, bad movie mockery.  Brilliance here comes through a back avenue for those willing to play along with the joke.

Key Scene:  Any time Reeves gets to throw out some surfer talk is glorious, but the real performance of note comes from Swayze whose accent is so realized that he should have done a cameo on the now gone The Californians from SNL.

Buy this on bluray, it is a mess of a movie with a far deeper message.  Indeed, the only initial comparison I can even think to make is my current favorite film of 2013 Springbreakers.

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