It may be hard to believe, but the greatest movie about bank-robbing surfers hit theaters 20 years ago today. That’s right on July 12, 1991, a up-and-comer named Keanu Reeves made action film history with one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars and romantic leads, Patrick Swayze. There is just so much about Point Break to love: the Ex-Presidents, Swayze at his Swayziest, a skydiving fight scene, Gary Busey talking about meatball subs. Even though Point Break is often remembered for its campier elements — one of its chase scenes played heavily into Edgar Wright’s action spoof, Hot Fuzz — the film arguably holds up better than movies released just a few years ago.
The story is a simple and timeless one (and one that bares a striking resemblance to The Fast and the Furious). A young, hot-shot former college football star, Johnny Utah, joins the FBI after a career-ending injury. His first partner, Angelo Pappas (a role played primarily by Gary Busey’s teeth), has a theory about the identities of the Ex-Presidents, a masked gang of bank robbers on a spree in LA. “The Ex-Presidents are surfers,” Pappas tells Utah. The rest plays out wonderfully from there. Johnny learns to surf and infiltrates the gang, eventually meeting up with the spiritual leader of the Ex-President, Bodhi (Swayze), who makes a damn fine Ronald Reagan.
The legacy of Point Break has many components playing into it. It is remorselessly over-the-top, with more than enough camp to make it a “watch with your friends and drink” kind of film. But the quality of the filmmaking is so high and the acting so colorful and fun, Point Break has established itself over the years a truly unique classic in the action film genre. And much of the success of Point Break lies with its leads. By no means is either actor stretching to fit his role — Reeves is an aloof but worthy adversary, and Swayze is the hardened zen master — but their serious performances still ground an otherwise ridiculous premise. By the end of the film, it’s obvious why Swayze was one of the leading men of the ’80s, and why Reeves went on to super-stardom.
Point Break also marked the first major box office success of its director, the future Academy Award-winning director of the Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow. Anyone who has seen work from the Best Picture-winner can attest to just how well Bigelow can shoot action, but her skills don’t end there. Point Break is punctuated with moments that are strikingly beautiful. In particular, the two sky-diving sequences and the haunting, rain-soaked finale.
If any of this is new to you, do yourself a favor and seek out Point Break. Laugh at it. Get wrapped up in it. Do both. However you choose to enjoy it, rest assured that you’ll bask in a fun, well-made action film.
If you’ve already seen Point Break, you probably haven’t made it this far in the post and are already watching it.
Happy birthday, Point Break, and vaya con dios, everybody!
Be sure to also check out EW’s PopWatch Rewind of Point Break.