We at THN collectively love Keanu Reeves and have been immensely excited about his return this year in JOHN WICK. Although not released in UK cinemas until April, THN have been lucky enough to have already seen it and we can tell you that it is all kinds of awesome.
JOHN WICK was so brilliant that it has awoken my long-forgotten admiration for Mr Reeves and compelled me to revisit his extensive back catalogue immediately. He might not be known as being the most heavyweight of actors but you have to admit the man knows how to make an entertaining movie, and he’s not bad to look at. Even if everything else about the film is terrible or ridiculously over the top, Keanu is always awesome – JONNHY MNEMONIC and CHAIN REACTION would be nothing without him.
Every Friday between now and the release of JOHN WICK on 10th April, I’ll be taking a look at a different Keanu classic. So far we’ve looked BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO; up this week is the high-octane bromance that is POINT BREAK.
POINT BREAK was the movie that made Hollywood take notice of Reeves, in a light that he hadn’t yet been seen in, as he took on his first action role. Up until then he had been in dramas or comedies, and his more athletic frame seemed to rule him out of the action realm. Director Kathryn Bigelow saw the potential in him though, casting him over the likes of Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer, Matthew Broderick, Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe (who stars alongside Reeves in JOHN WICK). Thankfully the risk of casting Reeves paid off and the film was a box office success. Made for a budget of $24 million, the film grossed $83.5 million at the box office and went on to garner another $20 million from US home video rentals. Keanu also picked up an MTV Movie Award for ‘Most Desirable Male’, beating out co-star Patrick Swayze.
Given Reeves’ stardom post-BILL & TED, POINT BREAK was almost called ‘Johnny Utah’. This idea was forgotten however when Swayze came on-board, as his star power was rising meaning that a new non-character-specific name had to be dreamt up. The first thought was ‘Riders On The Storm’ after the famous song by The Doors; after realising that the song lyrics had no bearing on the film’s plot, the name was changed to POINT BREAK which is an actual surf term.
The film told the story of rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah who, after going undercover to track down a prolific group of bank robbers finds himself in a moral dilemma. Johnny finds himself willing to do anything to catch the group known as The Ex-Presidents, named for their penchant for wearing rubber masks of ex-Presidents’ faces. That is until he realises that his new friends might be the culprits. Johnny is a buttoned-by-the-book type of guy who finds his life, and perspective on life, transformed after he starts catching waves and meets Bodhi, a local surf guru and the leader of The Ex-Presidents.
POINT BREAK gave Reeves his first on-screen opportunity to show his athletic skills. Keanu learned to surf specifically for the role and fell in love with the pastime; he also trained with UCLA quarterback coaches so that he could look good during the football scenes (trivia fans might like to know that the beach used for that scene is the same spot as the soccer game in THE KARATE KID). In a strange case of art imitating life, Johnny Utah became an FBI agent after a knee injury ended his football career; in real life Reeves became an actor after a knee injury left him unable to pursue his dreams of being a professional hockey player.
At the core of the film is the bromance between the two males. Reeves made POINT BREAK just before MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO which featured a very different kind of bromance (read last week’s feature here). In POINT BREAK the relationship is mentor and pupil, with Utah in awe of Bodhi’s perception of life – that is until he realises how much of a criminal he is, of course. In some ways you could almost argue that Bodhi is technically a cult member and is more than a little interested and invested in Johnny’s personal life and relationships – is that because he secretly wants Tyler (Lori Petty) back or are his affections pointed at Utah himself?
Much like TOP GUN the bromance has quite the cult following, the relationship between Johnny and Bodhi finding itself an unexpected plot addition in HOT FUZZ. Nick Frost’s PC Danny Butterman is obsessed with action movies, but especially POINT BREAK. The much referenced scene throughout HOT FUZZ is the sequence right at the end of the foot chase wherein Johnny has Bodhi in his gunsight but can’t shoot his new found friend and mentor. Instead Johnny unloads his clip into the sky. This ends up being parodied during the climax of HOT FUZZ. If that stretch of concrete that Keanu is laying on whilst emptying his gun looks familiar it’s because it’s the same stretch that John Conner was pursued by the T-1000 during TERMINATOR 2.
We all know that POINT BREAK is getting the remake treatment (sorry those who didn’t know) – but didn’t that already happen with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS? Originally the remake had Gerard Butler onboard as Bodhi – which wasn’t a bad casting decision. Sadly Butler left the project to do other things (LONDON HAS FALLEN anyone?) and has been replaced by Edgar Ramirez. Gary Busey’s character Pappas is being taken over by Cockney legend Ray Winstone, but who is taking over Keanu’s Johnny Utah? That job falls to ex Home and Away actor Luke Bracey. The plot also appears to have changed as the surfing element is being replaced with adrenaline athletics (boo). The film hits cinemas at some point this year, though it’s never going to topple Kathryn Bigelow’s classic.
As well as inspiring a remake the film is also responsible for nineties boy-band Point Break – well, it didn’t put them together, just gave them the inspiration for their name. Comprised of three Geordie lads, two of which had starring roles in the much missed Byker Grove, the band had a slew of hits including You, Stand Tough and the rather racy-lyriced Freaky Time. Sadly the trio didn’t manage to replicate the films longevity and they disappeared after one album; you never know though, they might turn up in the next series of Big Reunion.
I love pretty much most of Keanu Reeves’ movies, hence the feature series, but POINT BREAK may very well be my all time favourite of his work. There’s something disarmingly charming about his portrayal of the fish-out-of-water who finds himself seduced by his double life. There are some truly stunning set pieces in the movie too; the car chase, the foot chase, and of course the sky dive. The pacing is just as high octane as the activities showcased within, giving the audience the same adrenaline rush as Utah and Bodhi. Thank God I splurged my birthday cash on a Keanu video boxset or else I may have never got to see it.
POINT BREAK is one of those films that whenever I watch makes me want to do a reverse RINGU and crawl into the television so I can inhabit the world. It also introduced me to the wondrous meatball sub sandwich. For years I salivated whenever Pappas requested Johnny get him two from around the shop on the corner. You can’t imagine how excited I was when I visited my first Subway and actually got to try a meatball sub.
The main reason that POINT BREAK is so good, and has stood up to the test of time, is down to its director. Kathryn Bigelow managed a masterstroke of genius with this film, perfectly encapsulating the bonds of men, whilst not alienating the female audience.
Next week we kick things up a gear as SPEED crashes into focus.
If you’ve missed any of the previous Keanu Classics you can find them all here.