Looking back, the peculiar and somehow charming pseudo-philosophical machismo about communing with the earth of Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break was actually ahead of the bro-culture curve that seems to be everywhere now, and so never wanting to leave well enough alone, the cultish film was ripe for a remake. Taken out of its post-Reagan context and remade with a forced backstory and 100 percent more supermodel types (bye, Lori Petty) in 3D, cinematographer-director Ericson Core’s Point Break strips the silly fun and relatively straight-ahead narrative from the original for a humorless, if photogenic, spin on extreme crime. In 1991, a peaking, post-Dirty Dancing/Ghost Patrick Swayze and an ascendant, pre-Speed Keanu Reeves pulled off the nearly impossible and made the relationship between the ludicrously named Johnny Utah and Bodhi work. But they also had Bigelow’s eye for action set-pieces and bro-tastic homoeroticism to play with. This was a good thing.
The new hipster version’s stars Luke Bracey and Edgar Ramirez aren’t going to make anyone forget Reeves and Swayze anytime soon, but Core has turned in a technically sturdy and serviceable action picture that will play well as counterprogramming during awards season. Point Break wisely leans hard on its stellar visuals and location shooting and respectable 3D conversion, which should help generate equally respectable international returns anchored by China, where it opens Dec. 3 (the film was co-produced by Mainland distributor-producer DMG Entertainment). A low-demand Christmas Day opening Stateside will make it easily digestible for audiences looking for a holiday escape, but beyond that, prospects will likely crash like a radical wave crest, Brah.
The original’s ’90s surf bums become extreme sports nuts and quaint bank robberies become complicated globe-spanning financial attacks designed to devastate markets — with a chaser of Robin Hood — in an overwritten and simultaneously underdeveloped plot. The film starts with a daredevil motocross ride that sees Utah (Australian Bracey, The Best of Me) lose his best friend in a tragic accident. For some reason, this inspires him to join the FBI, which lands him in front of Hall (Delroy Lindo, always welcome). In an effort to prove he belongs in the Bureau, Utah shares a bold theory about the global-trotting thieves and gets himself assigned to the case.
This is Point Break 2.0’s first error. In overcomplicating the bandits’ motives, the film sets itself up for a fall. There’s too much mumbo-jumbo backstory about a dead eco-guru, the mythic Ozaki 8 (a series of extreme sporting challenges) and the raid of Mother Earth/the poor and so on and so forth to leave room for character arcs. When Utah tries to surf a rare ocean mega-wave, he’s rescued by Bodhi (Ramirez, Wrath of the Titans, Deliver Us from Evil), and just like that, he’s deep undercover in the gang and knows he has his man, or men. The cat-and-mouse between Utah and Bodhi is replaced with snowboarding, wingsuit flying and free rock climbing, leaving the slow bond between the two behind, along with any sense of personal drama. Cue the blown cover and betrayal, and the rest of Point Break follows the original’s course.
Core and writer Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, 2012’s Total Recall) are sure to include a handful of shout-outs to the original film: Utah’s frustrated gunfire when he lets Bodhi escape, the notorious “I am an F.B.I. Agent.” moment and a tip of the hat to presidential references. The primary goal, however, seems to be to make a more timely, relevant film that never quite reaches those heights (why does the European FBI office seem to be in a library, complete with a chalkboard?).
Despite all that, Core does manage to squeeze a bit of tension out of some incredible action sequences and gorgeous locations, with a chase up (yes, up) Angel Falls being a highlight. But the thin connection between Utah and Bodhi never raises the stakes enough to make the chases and extreme dares really land. A late second-act twist involving Utah’s painfully underwritten love interest, Samsara (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) doesn’t shock the way it should, and ever worse injects zero emotional resonance into the proceedings. The cast seems game, if overly serious, and Ray Winstone (replacing Gary Busey) manages to liven things up with his typical grizzled charm. Bracey is even less emotive than Reeves, though Ramirez shows flashes of genuine, true-believer sex appeal in a half-baked role. Technical specs are polished across the board.
Production companies: Alcon Entertainment, DMG Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo, Ray Winstone, Tobias Santelmann, James Le Gros
Director: Ericson Core
Screenwriter: Kurt Wimmer, based on the screenplay by W. Peter Iliff
Producers: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, John Baldecchi, David Valdes, Christopher Taylor, Kurt Wimmer
Executive producers: John McMurrick, Dan Mintz, Xiao Wenge, Wu Bing, Robert L. Levy, Peter Abrams
Director of photography: Ericson Core
Production designer: Udo Kramer
Costume designer: Lisy Christl
Editors: Thom Noble, Gerald B. Greenberg, John Duffy
Music: Tom Holkenborg
Casting director: John Papsidera
World sales: Lionsgate
Rated PG-13, 114 minutes