This may be news to no-one, but I’ve only just caught up with this franchise, so humour me. Let me first lay some cards on the table: I’m a Point Break tragic. Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surfing bank-robber bromance was the first M15+ film I ever saw, so for that reason alone it holds a special nostalgic place in my heart. The excitement at the time was immense. It had M rated violence! Boobs! Guns! Swearing! It’s been a great relief to find that throughout the many re-watches I’ve undertaken since that fateful soft-drink fueled sleepover (yeah, I was 10, that’s what cool kids did), it still holds up. Taut, stylish bank robbery sequences, a foot chase that was unrivalled in cinema until Casino Royale, and that bit where Keanu shoots his gun in the air and goes ‘ahhh.’ Patrick Swayze was never more watchable than when he inhabited the the hippy-guru-criminal-mastermind persona of the enigmatic Bodhi. And Reeves? What better way to utilize the actor’s perpetually stoned and bewildered persona by having the plot dictate that he impersonates a Californian surfer dude? ‘Vaya con Dios, Brah.’ Brilliant. Everyone just pretend he’s acting. Then, of course, there’s Gary Busey. Let off the chain as FBI agent Angelo Pappas, he leaves behind a trail of destruction and endlessly quotable dialogue: ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the ass end out of a dead rhino.’
The filmmakers behind 2001’s The Fast and the Furious obviously saw the brilliance behind Bigelow’s guiltiest of pleasures. Permit me, if you will, to deliver a brief synopsis: an American law enforcement officer tries to infiltrate a gang of alternative sports enthusiasts that he believes to be criminals – robbers, specifically. He meets a woman early on in the film and uses her to infiltrate the inner circle of the group. While working undercover, he falls for her. He also becomes enamoured with the group’s charismatic leader and finds his loyalty is tested. Convinced his new best buddy could not be a criminal, he goes after a rival gang, and after using significant police resources to raid them, comes up with nothing. He butts heads with his superiors who are demanding results, so he returns to his original theory. While other members of the gang are convinced our protagonist must be working undercover, the leader is unfazed. The gang pulls the classic ‘one last job,’ but it goes wrong. Gang members are killed, the protagonist’s cover is blown, and friendships are frayed. At the end, the lawman catches up with the mysterious gang leader with whom he has this whole homoerotic thing going, but instead of arresting him, he lets him go. He walks away from law enforcement contentedly, knowing that there is more to life. CREDITS.
Great story, right? But which film was I summarising? Either? Both? Exactly. I know, I know, your mind is blown.
The screenwriters of The Fast and the Furious (all three of them) pretty much just demoted Johnny Utah from the FBI down to the LAPD, stripped Bodhi of his glorious hair and substituted surfboards for cars. Paul Walker is a somewhat vanilla surrogate for Keanu Reeves, never quite achieving believability in either aspect of his dual role. Vin Diesel, on the other hand, may not have Swayze’s charm, but he still manages to convey that odd mix of simmering violence and mother hen. The love story between TFATF’s male leads is slightly less overt, but still present. Don’t believe me? Watch the final goodbye between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. The sexual tension in those longing stares generate enough heat to power a small island nation. Toning down the overall homoeroticism was a necessity to connect with TFATF’s target audience. In all fairness, can anyone imagine Diesel delivering lines like ‘I know you want me so bad, it’s like acid in your mouth’ to a tense-faced Paul Walker? Me either. It’s rather unsettling.
If it sounds like I’m coming out against The Fast and the Furious, let me clarify. I found it to be immensely good fun, largely due to its many liberal ‘homages’ to Point Break. When I sat down to watch it, I feared the worst. I expected an empty-headed, ethanol drenched cruise through the world of illegal street racing, overflowing with car porn photography and dialogue about engines. Which is largely what it is, I guess. But buried amongst that, there was also a great cops and robbers story, with cheesy but fun characters figuring out what it really means to be men. Or something.
What I’m trying to say is, if more films just copied Point Break, the world would be a better place.
Vaya con Dios, Brah.
– Tom Roe