Point Break. I can't even think of the title of the 1991 original without leaping into a surfer pose. It is to me a near-perfect film. A gang of big-wave riders wearing rubber masks of ex-U.S. presidents rob banks to finance their beachy lifestyle. A fledgling FBI agent goes undercover to ferret them out, and ends up falling under their spell. People play football on the beach, jump out of planes, leap nimbly onto bank counters and kiss in the ocean at night. Feds talk smack about each other. There's an old-school car chase and a foot chase in which someone throws a pit bull at someone else. It climaxes on an Australian beach where a twice-a-century storm whips up 15-metre waves. And because it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the action scenes are both kinetic and cogent. It is movie heaven.
The late Patrick Swayze, shaggy of hair and carved of torso, was born to play Bodhi, the mystic/surfer/gang leader given to pronouncements like: "Riding waves is a state of mind. It's that place where you can lose yourself, and find yourself." He makes his entrance lying back in a giant curl, caressing the ocean like a lover. An admiring woman calls him "a modern savage, a real searcher." He's a hard body with a soft heart, and Swayze is the only actor sincere enough to pull off lines like this one, delivered during a surfing lesson: "You have to feel what the wave is doing, accept its energy, and then charge with it."
As well, only Keanu Reeves could be Johnny Utah, a college quarterback who wrecked his knee, graduated top of his class at Quantico, and pronounces the letters "FBI" as if each is a separate paragraph. Reeves's line reading of Utah's last words to Bodhi, "Vaya con Dios" – said mournfully, with a lot of eye contact – deserves to be a meme, a greeting card, an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum.
We who quote Bodhi for fun and enlightenment are legion. "If you want the ultimate, you gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price." "It's not tragic to die doing what you love." "Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation causes your worst fears to come true."
References to Point Break percolate through pop culture – recently, I was watching season three of the TV series Ray Donovan. Visiting a university, Ray walks past two random students and hears this:
"It's an emotivist refutation of Kant, dude," Kid No. 1 says. "Bodhi's a bank robber, but he's also a cool surfer guy, which short-circuits Johnny Utah's whole FBI agent deal."
"Morality enslaved to passion," says Kid No. 2, smacking his head. "Classic fucking Hume."
"How did you not see that?" Kid No. 1 replies.
So imagine my bemusement when I heard that Point Break was being remade. The scruffy gang of beachcombers would transform into an elite squad of extreme athletes financed by a louche billionaire as they try to pull off something called the Ozaki Eight, "eight ordeals that honour the forces of nature," as the new Utah (multitattooed Australian hunk Luke Bracey) explains. (Ordeals include surfing 21-metre mid-ocean waves, snowboarding sheer cliffs, free-climbing a waterfall and zooming off in wing suits through a narrow mountain pass.)
The Ex-Presidents' humble, violence-free crimes would ratchet up to international eco-terrorism, as the new gang "repays the Earth" with high-profile crimes that disrupt the world's financial system – releasing millions of bank notes into the air, collapsing a gold mine. Everything would be bigger, louder and more expensive – except for one thing, the original's main asset: joy.
What makes the original great is its scale. The old Bodhi lives in a beach shack; the new one parties on yachts and in sleek modern mansions. The old Agent Utah works out of the local office; the new one (somehow) has jurisdiction on every continent. The old film features stunts done by humans; the new one does, too, but they're so outsized you assume they're all CGI. The old one wrung suspense out of an electric lawnmower; the new one requires an arsenal. The old Bodhi's philosophy was just gonzo enough: "We show those dead souls inching along the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive," he proclaims. The new one (Edgar Ramirez) wants to save the entire planet.
"They never get greedy," a cop in the original says about the bank robbers. Confronted by the new trailer, all you can think is, "They got greedy."
I know that remakes are inevitable. They're lucrative (how many Spider-Men have you seen?). There's a preapproved market, and marketing plan. But while it makes sense to update a premise (see the upcoming all-female Ghostbusters), it makes no sense to do a remake that betrays the very things people loved about the original. The title Point Break once referred to a specific surfing term. Now, it's about some metaphysical point at which someone breaks, and it's meaningless.
I mean, why call it Point Break at all? Why not Point Break 2, or PB2K, or Point Break: The Next Generation? (Point Breakier? Pointier Break?) If you're going to explain away Utah's name, as the new film does, why not make the character Utah's son? Don't raid the old film, and take away only its worst parts. Don't make Pointless Break.
"It was never about the money," Swayze's Bodhi says. To that I can only reply (mournfully, with a lot of eye contact), "Vaya con Dios."