Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Point Break (1991)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - 100% Pure Adrenaline.

Relentless action, breathtaking surf and sky-diving cinematography, and the multi-layered performances of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze make Point Break a high-adrenaline, visually spectacular thriller.

Young FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover at the suggestion of his partner (Gary Busey) to learn if a group of wild surfers is actually a gang of bank robbers. He soon comes under the dangerous spell of the surfers' charismatic leader, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a mystical mastermind who'll do absolutely anything for a thrill - and expects his followers to do the same.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Keanue Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 4.1 & DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround 2.0, French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 20 chapters; rated R; 117 min.; $22.98; street date 5/22/01.
Supplements: Featurette; Trailers.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B+(DTS), B(Dolby Digital)/D-

Bank-robbing surfers: if that theme doesn’t define “Hollywood high-concept”, I don’t know what will. Despite the silly idea behind Point Break, the movie itself actually provides a fairly entertaining experience in which the caliber of the action generally outweighs the goofiness inherent in the project.

At the start of PB, we learn of a group of long-time bank robbers whose professionalism has made their whereabouts a total mystery to law enforcement agencies. Called the “Ex-Presidents” because they sport masks of Reagan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson (poor Jerry Ford!), these slick crooks work a seasonal schedule and elude all attempts to nab them.

Cocky young FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) joins the detail when he learns of his new partner’s theories about EPs: Agent Pappas (Gary Busey) thinks that the robbers are surfers. Others berate this notion, but he finds lots of evidence to back up his ideas. He gets Johnny to agree and then go undercover to infiltrate the surfing subculture to get a bead on the thieves.

During his pathetic attempts to learn the sport, Johnny meets - and promptly falls for - surfing babe Tyler (Lori Petty). Through her, he connects with one of the local surfing cliques, one led by shaggy philosopher Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). As the film progresses, Johnny gets deeper into the group while he tries to find the culprits and solve the case.

That storyline doesn’t state anything that would make Point Break stand out from a slew of other crime-related action flicks, and it’s really the surfing element that creates an unusual demeanor for the movie. The change of scenery adds a nice tone to the film that helps it avoid a generic quality that otherwise might have harmed it.

Director Kathryn Bigelow has maintained a solid cult following with movies like PB, 1987’s Near Dark, and 1995’s Strange Days. Frankly, I think she’s overrated; while all three of those flicks offered entertainment, none lived up to their potential. In that regard, I found Strange Days to be the biggest disappointment of the bunch; it was interesting but it could have been really special. Point Break doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders, but it manages to overcome most of its potential problems.

Key among the probable trouble spots was the movie’s stars; Reeves and Swayze aren’t exactly known for their scintillating acting skills. Reeves offers the usual stiff and monotone performance as Utah. Actually, I’ve always thought that Keanu was a fairly likable presence in his films, but I can’t defend his work from the myriad of detractors; he does best as either a stoner ala River’s Edge or a one-dimensional action hero as in Speed or The Matrix. In the latter examples, Reeves flies highest when he’s really just a cog in a greater universe; those roles required little than a handsome, charismatic personality, and he could do that. When he is required to provide additional dimension to the parts, however, Keanu has more trouble, which is why his work as Utah seems like a mixed bag. Johnny becomes confused and torn as he integrates with the gang, but Reeves shows no ability to portray those dimensions of his character.

On the other hand, Swayze seems surprisingly smooth and loose as Bodhi. Perhaps this is because he really doesn’t need to show many emotions; he’s in control and doesn’t go through as many changes as Johnny. In Ghost, Swayze had a few solid moments, but the range of feelings required in the role harmed him, so it’s good to see that he found a part that was catered more to his restrictions. As Bodhi, he appears to fill out the character’s hedonistic desires and makes him a fairly compelling personality.

Bigelow manages to stage the action sequences with enough verve to let us tolerate the character-driven moments. Frankly, I didn’t really care about any of the various folks found in the movie; I assumed Johnny would eventually get his men, but I felt little investment in the outcome. Nonetheless, Point Break provided an entertaining diversion that made it more successful than it could have been. I wouldn’t call it a great action flick, but I thought it did enough well to be a decent one.

Bad inside joke alert: at one point, Utah mentions a lunch appointment at “Patrick’s Roadhouse”. This is a reference to Swayze’s 1989 Roadhouse. No, it wasn’t terribly clever, but at least they made an attempt to keep the audience on their toes.

The DVD:

Point Break appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie generally looked good, some concerns made it less vivid than I would expect.

Sharpness appeared consistently positive. Throughout the film, I saw fine accuracy and detail, and even wider shots came across as well-defined. Very little softness appeared during the film, as the movie seemed concise and crisp. Some moiré effects cropped up due to blinds, but otherwise the film was free of these shimmering images, and I detected no signs of jagged edges.

Print flaws caused more significant concerns. Although PB generally looked clean, I thought that the film provided too many examples of grit and speckles. I also witnessed occasional scratches and streaks, though these were less problematic, and a thin vertical line cropped up during one skydiving sequence. At times, the movie seemed rather grainy. Considering the age of PB, I felt it should have offered a less dirty picture.

PB featured a pretty subdued and naturalistic palette, and these hues seemed a bit drab at times. For the most part, the colors looked acceptably accurate and clear, but there are few examples of vivid tones to be seen, and many of the hues looked slightly flat. That said, I had no strong complaints about the colors; I just thought they should appear more vivid. Black levels also showed modest muddiness at times; they could have been deeper, but they generally seemed acceptably dense. Shadow detail came across as quite good, with nice definition to the low-light sequences. Ultimately, Point Break seemed consistently watchable, but for a relatively recent movie, the image showed more concerns than I’d expect.

On Point Break, we find both DTS 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtracks. I was quite surprised to discover the 4.1 nature of the DD mix, as one would assume that if the DTS piece was 5.1, the DD track would offer those characteristics as well. Granted, the original soundtrack of PB was Dolby Surround, so one could argue that the DD 4.1 version corresponds more closely to the source material, and that may be correct. However, since the DVD also includes a Dolby Surround mix, it makes less sense that the DD track would not be a 5.1 remix ala the DTS edition.

In any case, both mixes worked fairly well, but I felt the DTS version was superior. The main difference between the two tracks stemmed from the reproduction of low-end material. I thought the DTS edition provided somewhat tighter and deeper bass. Otherwise, the two tracks largely appeared identical; while the DTS mix was a bit smoother and cleaner across the board, I didn’t feel that there was a whole lot to separate the two.

For both tracks, the soundfield seemed fairly active. The forward spectrum provided a nice range of ambient effects that were well-balanced and placed appropriately within the mix. Sounds moved neatly across the channels and created a fairly realistic and convincing environment. As for the surrounds, they offered a strong level of interaction during appropriate scenes. For example, beach shots featured good use of waves and other atmospheric noises, and the environment heard during the skydiving scenes could be quite enveloping. I didn’t detect any split-surround information during the DTS track, though it was hard to tell. In any case, there was no clear use of the stereo surrounds; any potential examples of this were minor, so it’s safe to say that most of the audio from the rear was monaural.

Sound quality seemed fairly good for the most part. Speech appeared slightly thin and reedy, but I heard no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility; while the dialogue lacked much warmth, the lines were clear and distinct. Similarly, effects could be somewhat flat, but they generally offered good clarity, and only a few minor instances of distortion appeared during gunshots and a car chase. Music seemed nicely delineated, with bright highs and solid lows. Actually, these mixes boasted very nice bass response; while the DTS track provided the better low-end data, I thought both seemed deep and rich. Ultimately, Point Break featured a fairly solid auditory experience for a somewhat older movie.

Less interesting were the supplements found on the DVD. We get a three and a half minute featurette about Point Break. This brief piece combined film clips and some short interview snippets with the principals. It’s nothing more than a glorified trailer; it exists to promote the movie and it provides little useful information.

Otherwise, all we find on the DVD are two trailers for PB itself and some additional promos in the “Fox Flix” area. There you’ll get clips for Chain Reaction, Big Trouble In Little China, and Unlawful Entry.

While the lack of substantial supplements is a disappointment, since Point Break boasts a fairly low list price of $22.98, I won’t complain too much. PB doesn’t have the stuff to be an action flick classic, but I thought it was a generally entertaining and well-executed romp that avoided some of the goofier excesses of the genre. The DVD provides somewhat erratic but generally decent picture and sound plus almost no extras. Action fans will at least want to give Point Break a rental, and if you can get it for a good price, it may be worth a purchase.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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