I had a case of deja vu walking to the screening of the “Point Break” remake at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Theater. I remembered seeing the original back in 1991 at the same mall but at the long gone Holiday Theater (now the bank and next to where Koho’s still stands). Twenty five years later, I still can’t get enough of the tale of Johnny Utah and his undercover takedown of Bodhi, the Zen-like surfing/skydiving/bank robber who lives on adrenaline.
When Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” came out that summer, it was lambasted for being absurd and over-the-top. Indeed it is, though it’s also poetic, thrillingly made and directed with stylish precision. Bigelow is one of our greatest living action movie filmmakers and her Patrick Swayze vs. Keanu Reeves beefcake fest is among her most delicious and exciting works. I revisit it often, guilt-free and know I’m not alone. I was alone, however, at the screening of the 2015 “Point Break,” which played to a near-empty theater and likely won’t be remembered, fondly or at all.
This time, Luke Bracey steps in for Keanu and plays Utah, an FBI agent on the trail of a gang of thrill seeking criminals, led by the mysterious Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez). We know we’re off to a bad start when its revealed that “Johhny Utah” is a nickname, as if the film is embarassed by its origins. Later, we get an explanation of the title, another example of how screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn’t know his audience.
Bracey is set to star in Mel Gibson’s new film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” which will hopefully stop his acting career from its current freefall. He scored a zero playing a weightless adversary opposite Pierce Brosnan in “The November Man” and took over the thankless Cobra Commander role Joseph Gordon Levitt fled from in the “G.I. Joe” sequel. As Utah, he’s a non-presence, barely registering in a movie he’s supposed to carry. I want him to find a role and movie that works but he hasn’t found it yet.
What’s strange is that, unlike his co-star, Ramirez is an accomplished actor who has been amazing. He’s currently playing Jennifer Lawrence’s husband in “Joy” and his starring role in the epic “Carlos” recalls the young De Niro. Yet, like Bracey, Ramirez’ performance here wouldn’t pass muster on a soap opera. They never convey Utah’s obsession nor Bodhi’s hypnotic pull.
Ray Winstone has been oddly cast in the Gary Busey “Pappas” role but acts as though he’s on a dour police procedural. Max Theriot and Laird Hamilton each appear in one quick scene (they should have been cast as Utah and Bodhi). Delroy Lindo is the one actor who gives this any juice, but he’s stuck in a glum, exposition-spouting part (the same role John C. McGinley played to the hilt in the ’91 version). Despite her importance to the story, Teresa Palmer appears to have been mostly edited out of the movie. At last year’s Maui Film Festival, Palmer admitted to doing her surf scenes in front of a green screen. I appreciate her honesty, though the CGI is easy to spot, as the pixilated spritz of the waves and the clarity of the actors pretending to surf don’t always mesh with the footage. This is a far cry from the sight of Swayze saying “Adios Amigo” and jumping out of a plane, a stunt he actually did.
Further comparisons to the original are wholly unflattering: the story is rushed and never connects, whether laying out Utah’s plan, Bodhi’s Robin Hood-like approach to terrorism, his thrill seeking Ozaki Eight philosophy, or even the flimsy, barely-there love story. It’s been filmed by director/cinematographer Ericson Core with a dark blue/grey hue, making every scene appear either overcast or like a reflection from a Cutco knife. Whereas Bigelow’s movie was gritty but fun, knowingly ridiculous and exhilarating with its energy, the new version is robotic and joyless.
The end credits are long, listing multiple countries and multitudes of talented artists, all collaborating on a movie that seems to be missing entire sections of the narrative. It was nice to see Maui recognized for its contributors and scenery, though Peahi has been better utilized elsewhere.
If the most wildly unbelievable moment in the original was Keanu’s parachute-less free fall, then this one tops it with an unexciting mountain climb chase, in which the hero and villain are Spiderman-like in their on-the-spot climbing capabilities.
What does this movie have to offer? On the big screen, I got lost in the beautiful vistas and admired the daredevil feats of the action. Yet, this is the kind of movie where the stunt men and women give far better performances than any of the lead actors.