Swayze vs. Reeves in “Point Break,” all urban politics with “Boyz n the Hood,” and Harrison Ford forgets in “Regarding Henry.”
Nutshell: Young F.B.I. Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) has been partnered with Agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), tasked with solving a string of bank robberies defined by their speed and the presidential masks worn by the crooks. Chasing a lead, Utah infiltrates the world of surf gangs, using a romantic interest in local Tyler (Lori Petty) to get close to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the leader of the bank robbers and all-around guru of beach vibes and tests of endurance. Finding himself caught up with Bodhi’s crew, Utah loses sight of his objective, siding more with the criminal element the longer he remains undercover.
1991: “Point Break” was a film of, as advertised, “100% pure adrenaline,” a feeling that was both thrilling and confusing. In one of those bizarre mysteries of my adolescent moviegoing taste, I actually had the nerve to dismiss the picture in 1991, handing it a mediocre review in the Brichives. I was delighted with the opening detective work, but deflated once answers were revealed at the hour mark. Sheesh, so hard to please!
Discomfort with my initial assessment arrives because I now consider “Point Break” to be one of my favorite features, with the older me able to compute the tonal shifts of the screenplay, fully appreciating what director Kathryn Bigelow accomplished in an often lumbering genre. Over the last two decades, I’ve always supported the picture, extolling its virtues to others and pushing it as a sort of semi-classic of the 1990s. I’m a little freaked out by that Brichives revelation, which doesn’t make a lick of sense, but clearly the movie didn’t settle nearly as smoothly as I recollect. I’ve shifted my opinion on countless films throughout the years, but damn, I just assumed I was BFFs with “Point Break” since the beginning.
I suppose home video was the breakthrough, with repeated viewings helping to soften the blow of the mid-movie switcheroo. Away from the impact of the silver screen, “Point Break” could be approached intimately, permitting me to break down and study its many delights. However, the real solidification of adoration came with a viewing at a repertory theater in Minneapolis (the departed Oak Street Cinema), where I could accept the big screen awe of the film, fully aware of every step it was going to make. “Point Break” became a religion that night.
On a side note, with the release of “Point Break” came the odd teaser trailer for “Alien 3.” You remember, the piece of marketing that insinuated that the intergalactic, acid-blood-dripping threat was going to invade Earth for the third go-around? What a tease indeed. It was a trailer I constantly pushed to peek at during my movie theater shifts, my mind reeling with the possibilities of an “Alien” feature set on Earth. This was a time before instant movie spoilers, allowing me a sweet moment of cluelessness about what type of film Fox would ultimately produce. The teaser is still bitchin’ but so utterly misleading. I should’ve contacted a lawyer.
2011: When I view “Point Break” today, I understand how outsiders could view the film as enormously goofball. The picture carries an unnerving sincerity about it, taking the plot with utmost gravity, believing in the corruption of Utah and the spirituality of Bodhi.
Most people come for the thrills, but I respond more profoundly to “Point Break” and the manner Bigelow constructs its myriad of action and male bonding sequences. The screenplay is ambitious, taking to land, sea, and air as Utah monitors his wily suspect. Instead of feeling intimidated by the cinematic challenge, Bigelow makes a fist and dives right into the deep end, staging furious moments of conflict and distress, feeling the intensity of the moment (a berserker tone no doubt shepherded by production guru James Cameron) as hotly as Bodhi, keeping the film’s thematic grind of adrenaline addicts in play as Utah keeps blowing opportunities to catch his man.
And I mean literal land, sea, and air excursions. The picture’s dynamite chase sequences not only tear up Los Angeles neighborhoods with a pronounced summertime boil (the cinematography by Donald Peterman is all orangey and heavenly), but they also make a dash for the ocean, staging gorgeous surfing stunts, eventually moving over to a few skydiving sequences, one of which clearly demonstrates Swayze’s don’t-tell-the-insurance-guy bravado as he leaps out of an airborne plane. No stunt guy there. Bigelow keeps the havoc raw, but she’s interested in the splendor of the moment, taking precious screen time to survey the insanity, allowing the viewer to comprehend the complexity of Utah’s dilemma.
“Point Break” is a beautifully directed feature film, boldly tossing around its characters, challenging the actors to endure some extreme physical situations while feeding juicy dialogue to Swayze, who plays Bodhi with such an extreme commitment to beach bum rapture, I’m not entirely convinced it’s acting. This stuff is firmly within Swayze’s wheelhouse and he’s marvelous as the bronzed tormentor, making a fine villain of unnervingly even-keeled wickedness, but also a tempting figure of companionship, offering the inducted a wild mouse ride of turbulent experiences that enhance life. Also suited for duty here is Reeves, spraying his “whoa” hose in all the right directions as the slightly dim, mostly ballsy F.B.I. agent who can’t help but side with the bad guys. Reeves has a sharp physicality for the part and his intensity is never in doubt.
But who ends up stealing the movie? Gary Busey. In the only likable role of his career, Busey is a fun, frisky presence as the wizened agent with a wild theory about the bank robbers. The actor has never been this agreeable. Considering how irritatingly feral Busey has become over the years, it’s a shock to look forward to his scenes, particularly the classic moment where Pappas nearly achieves an erection over the thought of a local dive’s meatball sandwiches. “Utah, gimme two!” It’s a mantra I employ to this day.
And if you enjoy John C. McGinley’s acting, well, he’s here too, doing the one thing he always does. However, he does it best here.
If there has to be a complaint raised about “Point Break,” it would be to question the resolution of the picture, which feels tacked on, following Utah to Australia to catch Bodhi as he prepares for the wave of a lifetime. I’ve never read the script, but the ending resembles a reshoot, with Reeves in his “Bill & Ted” hair and Swayze looking decidedly deflated from his Bodhi prime. Perhaps test audiences hated to see the bad guy go unpunished, resulting in an epilogue of sorts that crudely injects one last action beat into a tuckered-out picture. It’s an epic end to Bodhi, but stretches “Point Break” out too far.
“Point Break” has been ridiculed, lampooned, and formed into an object of lust by an equally masterful motion picture, 2007’s “Hot Fuzz.” The essence of movie remains unsullied, and with every viewing comes fresh details and a new appreciation for the film’s fearlessness and originality in the midst of all of the cop formula. It’s a special motion picture to me, now more than ever. Thank goodness I didn’t give up on it after that initial showing in 1991.
Boyz n the Hood
Nutshell: Pushed into his care of his father, Furious (Larry Fishburne), at a young age, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has relied on his intellect and parental guidance to navigate the dangerous streets of South Central Los Angeles. With future college football hero Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and his thug brother Doughboy (Ice Cube) as his friends, Tre attempts to keep his cool, trying to stay on a proper path of self-preservation while facing profound sexual urges and the daily routine of violence that shadows his every move. Facing a critical juncture in his life, with a bright future ahead of him, Tre witnesses a paralyzing tragedy, which threatens to derail everything he’s worked for under Furious’s tutelage.
1991: A few weeks back, I revisited “Straight out of Brooklyn,” a feature of urban survival that seized its fair share of press due to the tender age of its filmmaker and the movie’s raw perspective. “Boyz n the Hood” arrived a few months later, but this take on African-American plight struck an extraordinary nerve, benefiting from a mid-summer launch, backing from a major studio, and an entire journalism industry ready to pounce on the tale of John Singleton, the 23-year-old writer/director who funneled his experiences into an unexpectedly evocative debut.
I don’t think anyone was expecting much of anything from “Boyz n the Hood,” but once it found release, it left an indelible impression on the industry and audiences.
The colorblind release pattern of “Boyz” brought the film to my theater that July, permitting a largely Caucasian suburb an opportunity to sample the feature, educating themselves on the troubles of young black males from a cinematic distance. Actually, I recall “Boyz” being the first time I ever witnessed large amounts of African-American audiences coming to the theater, which created an interesting energy that brought some needed excitement to the complex. Frankly, with a drive-by shooting occurring at a Downtown Minneapolis theater showing the film, the exodus to the suburbs was expected.
I wasn’t a “Boyz” believer in 1991, though I’m positive my middling reaction was partially in response to the effusive press Singleton received for his first film, which I felt was undeserved and, in many cases, just obnoxious. I was a Spike Lee advocate at the time, so any baby step in Singleton’s direction was an affront, especially for an iffy feature such as “Boyz.” I dismissed the picture, but ended up viewing the climactic scene numerous times due to theater cleaning duties, branding the last 15 minutes of the movie onto my brain. The repetition also allowed me to sample various reactions to the final beats of violence, watching as crowds cheered on Doughboy’s task of revenge for the murder of Ricky, which confused me at the time, seeing how Singleton was reaching for a message of peace. Or was he?
There were a lot of nagging questions left behind by the end of the picture. Still, “Boyz” created a sensation in a grueling moviegoing season, which isn’t easy to summon. For that alone, the picture had my respect.
2011: “Boyz” is an important film for the way it depicted an otherwise private community hell, shedding light on an area of America few understood. “Boyz” is an important film for the way it passionately communicates its messages of life and love. “Boyz” is an important film in the way it commenced an entire genre of “hood” pictures, showing broad influence in the work of numerous directors. I value “Boyz” for its novelty and history, but I still think it’s a determined feature kneecapped by sermonizing and cripplingly disjointed storytelling.
It might make me a ghoul to go against this picture, but a revisit thickly underlined what I perceived in 1991. Singleton steps up to the plate with a host of ideas and emotions he wants to impart, aiming to recreate the experience of unstable adolescence being pulled in numerous directions, including education, sporting glory, and gangster malaise. The young filmmaker has intriguing ideas for character design (including pacifiers and ubiquitous bottles of malt liquor) and themes, and his production squad conjures an evocative feel for the area, where gunshots ring out in the night, helicopters swarm overhead, and the cops are often more felonious than the felons. “Boyz” enjoys a firm foundation of purpose and experience, I would never dispute that. It’s the story that Singleton is attempting to tell that reduces the film to a chaotic series of events, not a hearty, consistent examination of dissolution.
“Boyz” is a series of vignettes and bad montages, taking Tre from his youth, where he’s passed off into the care of Furious by his affluent mother (Angela Bassett), to his teen years, where the boy is struggling to become a man, looking to sex and violence as a way to define his maturation. It’s a coming-of-age story without fluidity, hopping from scene to scene often indiscriminately. Singleton has stamina but lacks connective tissue, messing up development and motivation, unable to juggle the three distinct perspectives with confidence. Again, it’s a powerful movie, just not a convincing argument. “Boyz” resembles a scruffy television picture these days, complete with melodramatic freak-outs (Tre’s post-cop-harassment air punching therapy is a particular irritant) and shots that linger too long on exaggeration. There’s also an unwelcome mid-movie fantasy break where Tre tells his father a tall tale about losing his virginity, pouring some funny business into an otherwise bleak motion picture. The shifting tonality is often bewildering, too rambling to accept as a simple serving of slice of life events.
Singleton also errs with his messages, often stopping the movie cold to make his points on gentrification and the ravages of violence. The characters stop just short of addressing the viewer at times. The director has a powerful weapon in Fishburne, here in one of his best performances as the stern but loving Furious, a man devoted to raising Tre as a smart, open human being capable of avoiding the lure of his insubordinate peers. Fishburne is magnetic, effortlessly selling an aura of intelligence, striking powerful notes that help Singleton achieve the message of proper parenting he’s after. The boys of this hood are saddled with incomplete or rushed arcs that aren’t as penetrative as the filmmaker imagines, but put Fishburne in the frame? Forget it. Suddenly Singleton is making some of the most potent cinema of 1991. Clouded intentions are now clear as day.
“Boyz n the Hood” has this reputation as masterful cinema, but I see it more as a deeply flawed and scattered movie. The ending is another unsure element, constructed as an audacious comment on the cycle of urban violence, but registers more as a heart-racing revenge scenario, where Doughboy finally dispatches his enemy at point-blank range. Here, Singleton blows his argument, detailing the seductive steps of vengeance instead of coolly reinforcing the illogic of the moment. The viewer is left with an adrenaline rush of victory, not a mournful statement of doom -- a thematic punctuation hastily cooked up for the film’s pointless epilogue. It’s always bothered me. If Singleton was honestly looking to chill the blood of his audience when Doughboy pulls the trigger, he failed.
Singleton would go on to a largely unsatisfactory career mixing message movies with mainstream entertainment, hitting an extraordinary low point with his absurd 1997 picture, “Rosewood.” He’s never been able to replicate the cultural impact of “Boyz n the Hood,” but that’s not an easy act to follow, especially with a film that’s treasured as a forceful time capsule and cry for help. I don’t think very highly of the movie, but I certainly respect its reputation and objective.
Nutshell: Attorney Henry Turner (Harrison Ford) is a ruthless, insensitive man who’s alienated his family, including wife Sarah (Annette Bening) and daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen), while pursuing a sparkling courtroom record. Caught in a convenience store robbery, Henry is shot in the head, leaving the man with brain damage, unable to function as he once did. Working through a troubling rehabilitation period, Henry must relearn basic motor skills while facing a reintroduction to his family, struggling to remember life as it once was. Unfortunately, Henry’s education unearths corruption, adultery, and child neglect, troubling the now simple soul.
1991: Some critics have accused me of being too receptive to overly sweet and sentimental dramas. It’s a charge I cannot deny. Much to my horror, I’ve been awfully kind to manipulative dreck throughout of the years, hopelessly won over by tales of liberal fantasy and medical triumph. I trust this reveals a tenderness to my personality, but it also pinpoints a weakness in my personal taste. A good manipulation is difficult to turn down, which is why, in 1991, I found “Regarding Henry” to be an utter triumph, decimating with its emotional content and attitude toward seismic personal change. I was sucker for it, especially when it starred Harrison Ford.
Being a teenager, I was susceptible to the primary colors of “Regarding Henry,” locking into its tale of gunshot redemption, devouring the soft presentation from director Mike Nichols. It was easy medicine, good for the soul, observing a man who had everything gradually coming to terms with the wreckage of his previous life, finding his regression into childlike behavior opening his eyes to his past sins. Nothing wrong with that story, which is why I didn’t object to anything in the script by Jeffrey Abrams (known today as J.J. Abrams), authorizing the film to hit me with sentimentality and obviousness from all sides while the tears flowed and indignation bubbled.
I saw the film twice during its theatrical run, clearly demonstrating personal approval, while the Brichives note that Ford’s “Oscar-caliber” performances was something to behold. A rare shot to stretch as an actor, Ford’s work here was different, vulnerable. That counted for something.
The bottom line is that I loved this picture at one point in my life, though I left it behind in 1991, never taking the time to revisit. Until now.
2011: I’ve done a few of this summer diaries and while there have been changes in response to certain movies, nothing has vomited forth a feeling of horror quite like “Regarding Henry.” Happily returning to Henry’s nightmare and rebirth, I was stunned to find a creepy, amateurish, wrongheaded melodrama where I once found an endearing tearjerker.
Watching the film again instigated a symphony of cringes and eye-rolls, studying a motion picture that enjoys a promising premise, only to lose any potential for an exhaustive study of rehabilitation with a series of moronic subplots and characterizations. Abrams is painting by numbers here, not taking any real chances with the story. Not only is Henry brain damaged, but the script is too.
“Regarding Henry” is obvious Oscar-bait for Ford, who executes his childlike behavior with a droning simplicity. I believe “Tropic Thunder” had a name for his work here. Henry’s a devil fitted for angel wings, with Ford playing the adult infant for maximum sympathy, forgoing a more interesting complexity, refusing to keep the character in a place of suspicion. Henry regains his speech, learns to paint (boxes of Ritz crackers, which leads to a howler of a scripted twist involving Henry’s memory), returns home, and begins to understand the unethical bastard he once was, setting out to right his wrongs. Ford commits, but this mawkish script would barely pass muster on Lifetime, taking the easy route any chance it gets, with an aggravating routine of rich white people feeling bad for rich white people.
Blame goes to Nichols too, who passively handholds some of the most boneheaded scenes of 1991 into his picture, including one doozy that finds Henry bringing up his unethical behavior to his callous co-workers.
What mortified me about this revisit was seeing how floppy “Regarding Henry” is. Sure, a few cute scenes remain effective, especially anything involving Henry and Rachel as they build a fresh relationship together. Mostly, the picture plays emotions broadly, diluting the intricacy of Sarah’s experience with her wounded husband, while making Henry an idiot instead of a damaged human being. It’s a shamefully simplistic film from intelligent people, and a movie I cannot believe I ever truly enjoyed.
Coming next week…
Bill and Ted go to Hell.
And John Hughes should go to Hell.