Showcasing daredevil athleticism in a way that suggests condensed highlights from ESPN, director Ericson Core’s post-millennial take on “Point Break” replaces Californian surfer culture with the globe-trotting world of extreme sports, pitting an athlete-turned-FBI-agent against painstakingly principled Zen eco-activists. Yet what weighs the characters down is not their parachutes or rock-climbing gear, but their sententious First World guilt and bland casting; gone is the free-spirited fun of Kathryn Bigelow’s cult-hit original. Produced partly with mainland coin from DMG Entertainment, which also invested in “Iron Man 3,” the pic (which is being released in 2D and 3D versions) has enough visual dazzle alone to appeal to Asian markets, where it’s opening weeks ahead of its U.S. bow.
Having cut his teeth lensing fast-track blockbusters like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Payback” before helming “Invincible,” Core, who also doubles as d.p. here, has poured his expertise into devising jaw-dropping stunts and visualizing awesome natural wonders. But the sense of living dangerously is somewhat lacking as Kurt Wimmer’s emotionally vacant screenplay fails to make audiences care enough about the characters to sweat over their physical exertions.
The movie starts off strong with a bravura freestyle motocross sequence in the Arizona desert. It also provides a cliched sentimental reason for protag Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) to join the FBI. Handed the enigmatic case of Robin Hood heists in Mumbai and Mexico, in which American congloms were targeted and the loot was distributed among the poor, Utah puts his extreme-sports experience to good use, identifying the perps as fellow athletes trying to pass the legendary Ozaki Eight — a series of “Ordeals” honoring the forces of Nature, laid down by environmentalist-guru Ozaki Ono, who died attempting the third one.
Utah’s first encounter with the gang doffs its hat to the classic surfing scene in the original. We are off the coast of not California but Biarritz, in southwestern France, where the towering, crashing waves look like extras from “The Perfect Storm.” Utah is first drawn to Samsara (Teresa Palmer), who surfs like a Nereid, and is then saved by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), the team’s darkly handsome leader. From then on, infiltrating the gang seems to be a piece of cake for Utah, and the script wastes little time on either male rivalry or male bonding as the protags get on with their busy Ordeal itinerary.
Core’s lensing, enhanced by outstanding visual effects supervised by John Nelson, fully taps into the cinematic potential of such dynamic sports as base jumping, sheer-face snowboarding, wingsuit flying, free climbing and big-wave surfing. Aerial shots of the characters floating between the canyons like puffy cushions in their wingsuits are at once goofy and sheer visual poetry, while the scene in which Bodhi and Utah hang off a practically vertical cliff by their fingers must be a milestone in novelty as well as composition.
The sheer range of sports represented here through whiz-bang stunt choreography, all performed by champions in their field, may satisfy today’s attention-deficient audiences. For others, however, excitement will soon turn to overkill, and the level of tension dips considerably toward the end. For all the ponderous, hippy-dippy talk about healing Mother Nature and giving back to society, the eight Ordeals are not described in any comprehensible detail; nor do they relate directly to the gang’s actual feats.
In the 1991 version, surfing was an attitude and philosophy: Patrick Swayze’s gang of “ex-presidents” were blond, shaggy-haired airheads who used words like “get radical.” That they robbed banks to fund their lifestyle was a considerably more anti-establishment gesture, really, than the tortuous and patronizing actions of the new film’s bearded and brooding crusaders. Ironically, even though they insist that they’re not taking on these challenges for their own thrill, they pretty much ditch their charitable schemes by the last few Ordeals, while still retaining their tortured, self-righteous expressions. Their tract-dry dialogue barely rings true, and elicits little passion from those reciting it.
In contrast to Keanu Reeves’ choir-boy innocence at the time of filming, Bracey’s older, been-around image and jock physique affords him a more proactive role than that of a mere coming-of-age outsider. The weak link is Ramirez, who might have revealed greater dramatic heft if his character weren’t so flatly written; at any rate, he’s no match for Swayze’s cosmic dudeness. As the film’s only significant femme, Palmer is reduced to a sexual rather than love interest for Utah.
Tech credits are fancy to the point where Udo Kramer’s glossy production design feels seems in conflict with the gang’s anti-materialistic mantra. With a trio of editors, the action set pieces look flawlessly executed, but the narrative pacing isn’t as propulsive as it should be. The locations, are spread over France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Venezuela, Canada and the U.S., are spectacular in both their otherworldly beauty and their inhospitality.