by Bill Stamets

A remake to repay the planet: “Point Break” goes eco-extreme

Posted in Uncategorized by Bill Stamets on December 27, 2015

Point Break
directed and shot by Ericson Core
written by Kurt Wimmer
acted by Luke Bracey, Edgar Ramirez, Delroy Lindo, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer
running time: 114 minutes

 

FBI undercover rookie embeds in a cell of eco-spiritual sports extremists. Big stunts and green propaganda ensue in the new “Point Break.” Mystifying death wishes honor Mother Earth.

Ericson Core is both director and director of photography in this watchable remake of “Point Break” by Kathyrn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Strange Days”). The 1991 original starred Keanu Reeves as a quarterback-turned-FBI agent who hangs with bank-robbing surfers lead by sage-in-a-wetsuit Patrick Swayze.

This “re-imagined story,” as the press notes spin Core’s effort, suffers from uneven casting. Edgar Ramirez (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Liberator,” “Carlos”) is an inspired choice for Bodhi in the Swayze role. Luke Bracey, on the other hand, is a lackluster Johnny Utah, the Reeves character. He’s made over as an ex-extreme sports dude. His YouTube videos earlier tagged him as Utah. That’s what everyone calls him now.

The 1991 and 2015 films are set up with the same supporting roles. Utah is handled by a boss (Delroy Lindo) in the bureau’s office and an older partner (Ray Winstone in Gary Busey’s role) out in the field. His love interest Samsara (Teresa Palmer) gets less screen time than her 1991 counterpart. This time her parents perish in an avalanche, not a car wreck. Both films climax with a showdown between Utah, Bodhi and a mighty big wave.

Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer adds no insight into how Utah juggles badge and thrills. Bigelow lent more focus on that clash. Wimmer wrote and directed “Equilibrium,” a 2002 thriller set in a grey near-future when emotion is outlawed. A law enforcer (Christian Bale) is compromised by values espoused by suspects he chases, much like Utah is.

What’s intriguing now are the choices to expand W. Peter Iliff’s original screenplay. Wimmer multiplies the sports besides surfing and skydiving, and increases locations beyond the original’s California coast with an Australian coda. This time the crimes are more audacious. Bodhi’s motives transcend thrill-for-thrill’s sake.

Bodhi’s band in the 1991 film hit “thirty banks in three years.” Johnny detected a pattern in sync with the local surf season. A “`Point Break’ effect” turns up in a study published last April in Criminal Justice Studies. Its authors correlated 16,075 police incident reports and daily surf conditions posted online for two beaches in Ventura, California– just up the coast from where the 1991 film was set and partly shot. Using panel negative binomial models, the criminologists posit “micro-geographic” dynamics could aid “predictive policing.” Their statistics do not tally bank jobs as a sub-category, however.

The 2015 Bodhi (Ramirez) diversifies his theater of operations with international targets. His crew hits a diamond sorting facility, makes off with “10 million carats,” and “then gave it all away to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Mumbai.” They hide in the hold of a freight plane, attach parachutes to loads of U.S. currency, push them out the cargo door, and shower the Mexican countryside with cash. They torch a lumber operation on the Congo River. They trigger rock slides on French mountain road to bury a convoy of mining trucks bearing “a 100 million in gold bullion.”

They only rob a bank when the FBI somehow freezes the assets of  super-rich Pascal Al Fariq (Nikolai Kinski, who played Karl Lagerfeld in “Yves Saint Laurent” last year), the European sponsor of Bodhi’s extreme sports activity in exotic locales. The 1991 loot was needed to underwrite international travel to primo surf spots during Venice Beach’s off-season.

“I need a theory,” pleads Utah’s superior (Lindo) in the 2015 film. “What kind of people are we dealing with here?” Utah (Bracey) has one: Bodhi’s extreme stunts coincide with his covert anti-corporate actions. He figures Bodhi and his crew are following the path of the late “eco-warrior” Ono Ozaki who died trying to defend whales from a Norwegian whaling ship.

“One of the first recognized extreme poly athletes, [Ozaki] challenged the extreme sports world to a series of eight ordeals that he said honored the forces of nature,” continues Utah. Bodhi sees each opportunity in nature to attempt one of his death-defying feats as a “gift” from Earth. And “to balance out that gift” he and his comrades “give back something that was taken from the Earth” by the greed of others. Thus, the gold and the diamonds are their “offerings.” Eco-mumbo-jumbo it may be, but give Wimmer some carbon credits for tapping into a Gaia-globalization-GPS-GoPro zeitgeist.

“The film is replete with the most daring athleticism ever seen in a motion picture,” hypes the press kit that names 35 big wave surfers,  sheer-face snowboarders, high-speed motocross riders, wing suit  flyers, free rock climbers, and Ironman triathletes who contribute to “Point Break” on camera or as consultants. To list crews in 11 countries, the end credits run 16 minutes.

Alcon Entertainment, the remakers of “Point Break,” is preparing a sequel to “Blade Runner.” The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Australian newspapers tracked the making of the second “Point Break”: a “sequel” to the first film, to be set in Southeast Asia with Swayze, was announced in May 2007; one year later Jan de Bont was supposed to direct it in Singapore and nearby locations; in September 2009 he exited “Point Break 2,” replaced by the future director of “Kick-Ass 2”; five years later action star Gerard Butler “pulled out of the hotly-anticipated Point Break remake.”

A troubled production trajectory might have dented the new “Point Break” with more than lapses in dialogue. Larger faults date back to the original.

I admit it’s trivial to point out that on the remake’s December 25, 2015 release date, the only Mumbai building with 100 floors or more is the unfinished residential World One. And as scripted or delivered, I think that “100 million uncut diamonds” would far exceed “the entire month’s yield from the company’s mines.”

Nor does this disconnect between a line of dialogue and a line in the press notes really matter in the 2015 film: after quitting extreme sports, Utah earns his GED, goes to college, and graduates from law school– all within three years. His character in the 1991 film somehow goes to “law school” on a “football scholarship.” He finds Bodhi’s “passports to Sumatra.”

A serious flaw in the first film is how the protagonist was conceived and cast. A two-act parody titled “Point Break Live!” staged by New Rock Theater in Los Angeles made that point cleverly. Variety reported in June 2008: “the Keanu Reeves character, Johnny Utah, is cast from the audience at every show, in an effort to reproduce Reeves’ peculiar opaqueness. The chosen actor is provided all of his or her lines via cue cards.”

What’s Utah doing in the plot on screen? He’s there to moralize about two callings at odds: as a seeker of peak moments facing great risks in sublime nature, versus a public servant upholding laws. Both paths lead to self-sacrifice, one cooler than the other. “The only law that matters is gravity,” divulges Bodhi, as he steps off a precipice and disappears in a thundering cascade. (He only gives that catchy line in the trailer.) Utah the lawman leaps in pursuit. Bodhi earlier reveals he knew Utah was secretly gathering evidence against him. “Then why’d you let me in?” asks Utah. “Because I thought I could save you,” answers Bodhi.

The 1991 film and the 2015 film both have scenes where Johnny Utah empties his gun by firing in the air instead of at Bodhi. He lets him get away and lies about it to the FBI. And at the end of both films, he lets Bodhi surf a towering wave that’s sure to drown him. A shot or two later Kathryn Bigelow shows Johnny tossing his FBI badge into the waves on an Australian beach. By contrast, Core has him accept his new “fast-tracked” badge on a river bank, below the Angel Falls in Venezuela.

Can either “Point Break” speak to its time? In 2011 Michael DeLuca advised the Hollywood Reporter: “`Point Break’ wasn’t just a film, it was a Zen meditation on testosterone-fueled action and manhood in the late 20th century and we hope to create the same for the young 21st!” He is not listed now among the 16 or so producers of the remake.

Andrew Kosove is one of those producers. At a press roundtable he commented on the times in which each film was made. He pointed out the first film was preceded by “12 years of Republican administrations and Ronald Reagan and Wall Street Go-Go 80’s.” “Twenty-five years later, we’ve experienced a level of wealth consolidation, globalization, and corporate power across lines and countries that were inconceivable in 1991.”

Kosove over-reaches to claim relevance for this entertainment property. A clue to the dubious coherence of the script, if not the marketing, is another line in the trailer that’s not in the film: Utah alerts his colleagues that Bodhi aims “to disrupt the international financial markets.” Good luck finding any hint of that agenda in the film itself.

Utah spells out Ozaki’s formula to the bureau: “Anyone who could find the perfect line existing through each one of these [eight] ordeals, he believed, would achieve nirvana.” Bodhi later corrects Utah’s read on his distinctive quest: “We’re not here to reach enlightenment, to find nirvana. We’re here to try to save this place by becoming one with it. And to do that you need to be able to let go of your sense of self, completely.”

Make an offering of your very being. Recurring dialogue quasi-ecstatically equates “perfect” and “beauty” and “death.” A Nietzsche-adrenalized martyr to Mother Earth, Bodhi exits “Point Break” rhapsodizing: “Isn’t death beautiful?”