Point Break (1991) *****  Point Break was this reviewer’s second Kathryn Bigelow movie after the underappreciated 1987 vampire horror Near Dark. Like that film, this one is a consistently inventive take on a standard genre, in this case action of the undercover and heist/caper varieties, that goes for a style-heavy approach that in no way detracts from the substance.

The cinematography, and particularly the overcranked (i.e., slow motion) work, is elegant and appropriate to the beauty the characters find in their various philosophically informed adrenaline rushes and passions of choice. The opening credits appear over intercut images of surfing and target practice – married pictures of recreation and violence – that capture the fun but dangerous tone and thematic concerns of the story as a whole. At times Point Break feels like an L.A.-flavored super-episode of Miami Vice, with its undercover operation, sun, and political cynicism – conveyed most creatively in its vision of American presidents as bank robbers, which underscores Point Break‘s constant relativistic tension.

Johnny Utah is an interesting part for Keanu Reeves, a transitional role bridging his 80s dude persona, as exemplified by Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Parenthood, with his later, more serious (but less noteworthy) turns in films like Speed and The Matrix. Reeves even does a little undercover work on the beach in Spicoli mode, acknowledging where he has been as an actor in the midst of cutting his teeth as a leading man of masculine weight.

Swayze is surprisingly scary and darkly charismatic here, and may prompt some viewers to wish he had essayed more antagonistic parts in his unfortunately short career. Busey is entertaining as always, as is Vincent Klyn (Cyborg‘s Fender) in his supporting gig as hardcore surfer hooligan Warchild.

This reviewer is tempted to place Point Break in the highest tier of 80s/early 90s action films. Point Break falls short of being a Conan the Barbarian, a First Blood, or a Running Man, but it is on a level with Red Heat or Shakedown and better than RamboCobra, or Death Wish 2. The absence of a Stallone or Norris in no way handicaps Point Break, an action-adventure-drama with a sensibility all its own. 5 stars, easy.