According to the new Point Break remake, which replaces the 1991 cult classic’s endearing blend of beach bum drama and high-adrenaline crime with a buttoned-down approach that feels more befitting of an energy drink commercial, if you’re great at one daredevil recreation you’re great at them all – from riding monster waves to free-soloing up a steep slippery mountain.
One possible exception exists for anyone who might view acting as a sort of extreme sport; on that front the dunderhead thrill-seekers populating this interminable action-drama have no game at all. The new cast look at each other with eyes that seem, if not soulless, then certainly uninterested – as if director Ericson Core instructed everybody not to have any fun.
Surfer types drawn to the catch-some-waves, commit-some-crimes, sun-kissed shenanigans of the first film will likely consider the new one a wipe-out. There is very little surfing, just two short scenes near the start and end. Presumably in an attempt to one-up the original, Core and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer gorge on high altitude settings and all manner of risk-taking behaviour, even shoehorning in a Fight Club style punch on.
Luke Bracey plays the Keanu Reeves incarnate character, Johnny Utah, an FBI agent undercover to infiltrate a group of criminals who commit daring heists in between exchanging pseudo intellectual babble about finding nirvana and achieving enlightenment. They are led by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) who deadpans lines like “a man who pushes boundaries ultimately finds them” to anyone within earshot.
Utah’s tragic backstory forms the opening scene; we watch him and a buddy motor bike across an insanely treacherous ridgeline before the cold hand of fate/logic interjects. “There’s no way to ride that,” his friend insists, and after the whizzing of tyres and sprays of dust he tumbles off a cliff – an elaborate audition tape for Dumb Ways to Die.
The haunted protagonist turns good as a colt FBI agent praised by his boss (Delroy Lindo) for making a connection between two sensational airborne heists. They were done by the same people, he boldly insists, as if crimes involving extreme sports and robbers literally falling from the sky were day-to-day occurrences. Correctly predicting they will congregate in choppy water in France, where rare weather conditions have caused the best waves in a decade, Utah sets about ingratiating himself with the group and proving his mettle.
Like Ron Howard’s recent water-clogged adventure pic In the Heart of the Sea this testosterone-fuelled macho pic feels, despite the exotic settings, strangely spiritless. It’s as if the high (in Howard’s case, low) altitude has sucked all the life out of it. The cast wrap their mouths around hackneyed dialogue – lines such as “you’ve got nowhere to go” and “it’s time to choose what side you’re on” – and the action scenes are rendered with very little flair or energy.
To say the female characters have been given short shrift is to put it lightly. Teresa Palmer – as free spirit babe Samsara – is wheeled out to give Utah something to paw at; she stays behind while the men do the dangerous stuff. And the bromance element in the original – the chemistry between Reeves and Patrick Swayze’s characters, essential in giving their opposite-sides-of-the-law relationship some frisson – is virtually non-existent this time around.
One simple scene – away from the slopes, mano a mano – demonstrates how greatly Core’s direction is wanting. Utah, emotionally pumped and in pursuit of Bodhi, spots him on another platform at a train station and after a moment of contemplation runs onto the tracks towards him. A train suddenly whizzes by and he stops, inches away from being bouldered over.
The way the scene is staged makes it inconceivable he would not notice the train approaching, so we aren’t experiencing the scene from his perspective: it’s coming from an emotionally disconnected place. But nor can we possibly be surprised or excited by a revelation so banal as the arrival of a train at a train station. The moment is misjudged to hit a transitory thrill that isn’t remotely thrilling.
The same can be said of Point Break’s more spectacular set pieces, which don’t feel very spectacular at all – more like bits out of travel company corporate videos. It’s as if the film has been directed by computer or phoned in from the top of a mountain; rarely do dizzying heights feel so low to the ground.