MOVIE REVIEW : 'Break': Surf's Up, Credibility Down

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the most numbing things about many movies today is how wildly out of scale they seem to go: the way visual and technical virtuosity is juxtaposed with silly, vacuous stories. "Point Break" (citywide) may be a prime example.

It's a movie full of golden, liquid oceanside scenes, aerial ballets, Steadicams flying through packed offices and corridors, massed towering waves crashing down at us--and violent car-crash and gun-battle pyrotechnics splattering all over the screen in bright, violent, bloody shards.

It's beautiful, but it's dumb.

The very idea is a jaw-dropper: Keanu Reeves as an ex-Ohio State Rose Bowl quarterback (named Johnny Utah!) turned FBI agent, who goes underground to infiltrate the surfer subculture, because his partner Angelo (Gary Busey) believes surfers are responsible for a string of bank robberies committed by thieves disguised in Reagan, Nixon, Carter and L.B.J. masks.

This sounds like ripe material for comedy. But, after the opening heist scene, when the movie cracks a few ancient Tricky Dicky jokes, humor, or at least conscious humor, is mostly abandoned.

Unconscious humor abounds--mostly in the person of Patrick Swayze's character, Bodhi (as in Bodhi Tree), decked out in golden locks and a faraway expression--and introduced as "a savage, a searcher." Bodhi is a man seeking the great wave, the "50-year storm" a man who believes that there is a spiritual meaning behind every wave, a man obsessed with semi-mystical revolt against misguided small-souled yuppiedom.

The movie's plot grinds into motion, when Busey's Angelo notices a tan line on the buttocks of one bank robber after he moons the bank camera--and goes downhill from there. Its bashing, crashing fights and car-chases, sky-diving scenes, wild footraces and massacres are staged with such frenetic overstatement that they carry no punch or anxiety--not even when a maniac is about to shove Reeves' nose into a lawn-mower.

I don't know if director Kathryn Bigelow took this sorry story seriously, saw it as satire, or undertook the project simply as a professional duty and technical exercise; her executive producer is current husbandJames Cameron. But she and her actors, with the sometime exception of Busey, are unable to impart an atom of conviction to any of it.

Bigelow's never been impressive for the quality of her scripts, and in "Point Break," (MPAA rated R for violence, language, sensuality) she's hit rock bottom. It's a movie that's almost all style, all technique. It doesn't seem to be inhabited by people, thoughts or feelings, but by great coruscating patterns of light crashing over and over us, repeatedly--almost, but not quite, drowning out a constant buzz of cliches.

'Point Break'

Bodhi: Patrick Swayze

Johnny Utah: Keanu Reeves

Angelo Pappas: Gary Busey

Tyler: Lori Petty

A largo Entertainment Presentation of a Levy/Abrams/Guerin Production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Kathryn Bigelow. Producers Peter Abrams, Robert L. levy. Executive producer James Cameron. Screenplay by W. Peter Iliff. Cinematographer Don Peterman. Editor Howard Smith. Costumes Colby B. Bart, Louis Infante. Music Mark Isham. Production design Peter Jamison. Art director Pamela Marcotte. Set designer Ann Harris. Set decorator Linda Spheeris. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (Violence, language, sensuality).

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