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There’s Gonna Be a Showdown: Point Break vs. The Fast and the Furious

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 3, 2009

Walker DieselReeves Swayze

Sorry to digress from our regularly scheduled programming, but I had to take the time to write about something that had been weighing on my mind recently. I’m not sure when it was that I first realized the many similarities between Point Break and The Fast and the Furious, but the more I thought about it, the more staggering the parallels became. I mean, I know that I’m far from the first to make this observation, but have you ever actually sat down and thought about how close The Fast and the Furious is to being a straight-up remake of Point Break? Loose cannon detective goes undercover with a group of extreme adrenaline junkies to uncover a ring of thieves, falls under the spell of both the charismatic frontman of the group and its intelligent maternal figure, participates in a final heist with them that goes horribly wrong, and has to decide whether his devotion to his badge is more important than his devotion to his new Xtreme family? How the hell is that two separate action gems could have that exact same plot without at least sharing stars, a director or a title?

But it’s more than just the general plot skeleton that makes the two flicks such spiritual bros, and recent cable viewings I caught of both just drove this point home further–it’s everything, from the characters to the twists to the set pieces to the names. Hell, look at the picture up there–they even dress the fucking same! However, which of the now extremely dated, but still classic flicks holds up better? Let’s get radical…

Better Mimbo Protagonist: Both movies made the risky but inspired choice of casting two of the prettiest, dumbest male actors of their respective generations as the leads in their respective movies. With his wavy, sandy blonde hair and penetrating eyes, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner had even the male characters in The Fast in the Furious swooning (“Ahh, he is beautiful!” remarks gang techie Jesse upon laying eyes on Brian for the first time). But when it comes to ditzy male action stars, there’s still none finer than ur-action dreamboat Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah. With Reeves, you’ll inevitably chuckle at some of his over-enunciations, but it’s never watching-through-your-hands bad like it with Walker, who even gets thoroughly outacted in scenes with Ja Rule in The Fast and the Furious. The proof is in the pudding: Reeves would go on to a twenty-year career stuffed with blockbusters, cult classics, and arthouse successes alike (though obviously not without a few bombs in between). Walker probably still can’t figure out why it’s taking them so long to make a sequel to Joy Ride.

Edge: Point Break

Better Beefcake Semi-Antagonist. This might be my greatest act of heresy in this article, but I was never all that huge on Swayze in general. He always seemed a little too old, scraggly and stiff to be cast in the hunky roles he made his bones with, and those roles in turn kinda killed the idea of him as a pure action star for me (the obvious exception of course being the immortal Road House). His Bodhi is cool and all, but a little too hippie-ish for my tastes. Vin Diesel, on the other hand, is the great lost action star of our time–never demonstrated better than here, as muscle man Dominic Toretto. He looks like a badass, talks like a badass, yells like a badass, has badass girlfriends (Michelle Rodriguez in her mainstream breakout), races like a badass, and gets in fights like a badass. (He might even be able to act a little bit, though admittedly next to Walker, just about everyone is going to look like Philip Seymour Hoffman). That our culture seems to have foresaken him in favor of…who exactly, Shia LaBoeuf?…is one of the decade’s great tragedies.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Main Chick. My friends and I were talking last night about how generally surprising it is in general that Point Break, one of the dudest movies ever made, was actually directed by a woman, action auteur (auteuse?) Kathryn Bigelow. We concluded that the one way in which you could tell for certain that the movie was female-helmed was in the casting of Lori Petty, a shrill, irritating mouse of a woman, as Tyler, the surfer babe that Johnny falls in love with. What male in their right mind would look at this person and think “oh yeah, I would definitely risk blowing my cover with a bunch of insane bank robbers to get with her!” Yet we’re to believe that Keanu, one of the best looking men on the planet, was going to join in on a heist, get his partner killed, and jump out of a plane without a parachute…all for the ugly sister from A League of Their Own?? Yeah, might want to consult again with your casting director on that one, Kathryn.

Meanwhile, Jordana Brewster was a perfectly respectable, and arguably even somewhat underrated, hottie choice to play Dom’s sister Mia. Dark haired, tight-jeaned, vaguely exotic looking–Brewster was kinda like Megan Fox before Megan Fox, if lacking that certain edge that puts Fox totally over the edge. She can even act better than you probably remember, too–watching her date scene with Walker is like watching an acting exercise where Brewster was the one leftover good student who was forced to partner up with the class dunce. No contest here.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Scenes of The Life: A movie about a cop going undercover with action junkies is generally only as good as its portrayal of the action junkie subculture. In this respect, The Fast and the Furious was something of a masterwork, balancing utterly implausible scenes of fantastically visceral excitement (Hundreds of people showing up in hot cars for organized illegal street-racing? I don’t think I saw one event like that in the “Things to Do in New York This Summer” feature in New York magazine!) with equally appealing down-home, family-style hanging out scenes (The Dees looks like he can cook up a mean barbecue, if nothing else). Point Break has some good scenes like that, too–the house party where Bodhi does the lime and tequila thing with his lady friend, the ridiculous beach football game–but I dunno, surfing scenes are just never gonna look that cool to me. And you can only jump out of a plane so many times before it loses its novelty.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Quote About The Life: Each of the movies has a scene where, in a rare moment of quiet, the subculture ringleader gives their new inductee a speech about how much The Life means to them–as if to further sell them on it, just in case they weren’t quite sure just yet. Both climax in one quote that summarizes the entire appeal of their alternative lifestyle, and (not accidentally) seems to summarize their entire characters as well. Dom’s “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” speech is quite nice, especially coming after his emotional confession about his father’s death and his own reaction to it (the action movie equivalent to Vin’s Oscar moment–his MTV Movie Award moment, maybe?) But I still prefer Bodhi’s “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love” message. I often find myself thinking that thought since, though I’m not sure when exactly how it comes up while I’m playing Sporcle trivia or singing karaoke. Anyway,

Edge: Point Break

Better Villlainous Crew: You go a while without watching The Fast and the Furious and you can almost completely forget about Johnny Tran, the evil leader of a fellow racing team, and one of the great Asian-American villains in action movie history. Paired with his inexplicably gold pants-wearing sidekick Lance, some of the greatest joys of The Fast and the Furious come watching Johnny execute vehicle drive-bys, or torture fences with forced gasoline ingestion, or try to outmuscle and outmacho Dom (good luck with that, broheim). Like Walker and Diesel, actor Rick Yune can’t exactly talk convincingly, so he does well not to ruin everybody’s fun. The rival surf gang in Point Break is pretty good too, even turning in one of the movie’s similarly forgotten classic scenes with the cops’ surprisingly violent raid on their place (featuring a naked chick smashing Reeves’ head into a mirror, I think). But come on…those pants!

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Cops: Another thing you’re bound to forget about The Fast and the Furious even after seeing it eight times is that Ted Levine–Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Agent Stottlemeyer on Monk–plays Brian’s main ally in the force, the emathetic and occasionally witty Sgt. Tanner. TFATF also gets some minor help from Thom Barry, the Cold Case star with an impressive That Guy resume, as Brian’s less understanding commanding officer. But really, who are we kidding here? Point Break gets an unbelievable boon from performances by two of the all-time greats, John C. McGinley in one of his many pioneering Asshole Authority Figure roles (and arguably his very best) as Utah’s supervisor Ben Harp, and Gary Busey, in the prime of his transition from I Was Nominated for an Oscar Once Busey into I’m So Crazy Somebody Give Me a TV Show Busey, as Utah’s wacky veteran partner Angelo Pappas. Not even the presence of Bill Duke could have swayed this one.

Edge: Point Break

Better Heist Gone Wrong Scene: Tough, because the on in The Fast & the Furious is pretty cool, and in general it’s hard for anything to beat a full-on, high-stakes highway chase scene. But my main problem with it is this: Why the hell would Brian risk his life to save Vince? This is a guy who’s in love with the girl you’re screwing, beefed with you from the first moment you ever showed your face, and in fact has been itching for an excuse to blow your head off just about ever since, and you’re going to casually jump onto a truck in the middle of a hijacking while the driver reloads his shotgun, to save this guy? Very possibly just so he can kill you later, once he finds out that he was right about you being a cop all along? I mean, I know he’s in love with Mia and all, but she didn’t seem to like Vince very much anyway, so really, why bother?

Meanwhile, I have my issues with the Point Break blown heist as well, mainly in that it’s a little too much of a downer for a movie that had been such great frivolous fun up until that point. But the heist also includes one of my favorite moments in the whole movie, where the undercover cop among the hostages in the bank tries to persuade the uniformed cop to follow his lead and try to take down the robbers with him–and the uniformed cop begs him not to try anything, because he knows it’ll get them both killed (and, indeed, it does). It’s a surprisingly funny and honest moment, because really, who wants to take on four armed gunmen just to try to prevent a bank from losing some insured cash? It’s enough to give it the close win here.

Edge: Point Break

Best Cameo from a Star Musician: Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis, no doubt a brah-in-arms of the So-Cal surfer spirit on display in Point Break (though he probably objected somewhat to Bodhi’s implicitly anti-drug stance), had a cameo in Point Break in the house raid scene, but by the end of that scene, Kiedis’s presence is maybe like the sixth most memorable thing about it. Who, however, could forget Ja Rule in the first racing scene in The Fast and the Furious, as his girlfriend promises him a three-way with a sideline hottie if he wins (“You get her, too”)? Or, for that matter, his ultimate cry of anguish as Brian blazes past him during the race, obliterating his chances of victory: “MOOOOONICAAAAA!!!!!!“? Somewhere, not far away, the future producers of Half Past Dead were taking notes.

Edge: The Fast and the Furious

Better Most Ridiculous Scene: Point Break no doubt contains several of the canonical ridiculous scenes in action movie history, most notably being the scene where Johnny, having skydived exactly once in his life (earlier that day), nonetheless feels enough confidence in his ability to swim through air that he jumps off a plane, without a parachute, in the hopes of catching up to Bodhi and forcing him to deploy his parachute and arresting him once they hit the ground. (Apparently Mythbusters proved that Johnny could actually have caught up with Bodhi by streamlining his body, but couldn’t have freefallen (freefell?) with him for as long as he did, or conducted a conversation while doing so). I’m not sure what the most ridiculous scene in TFATF is–maybe the one where Dom and Brian race the asshole in the Ferrari for no real reason–but does it even matter?

Edge: Point Break

Better Last Scene: Naturally, it all comes down to the ending. Point Break‘s was a real good one–I always respected how Utah kept going after Bodhi, despite having no real motivation besides obsession and a sense of impuned justice. Everything about their final exchange is fairly pitch-perfect, from Bodhi’s cries for one last wave, to Utah’s “vaya con dios” send-off, and his oh-so-symbolic tossing of his badge into the sea as he exclaims to his fellow officer that Bodhi’s not coming back. And ultimately, this is where The Fast and the Furious falters somewhat. If Brian was really planning on letting Dom go the entire time, why go through that entire charade of racing him down that quarter-mile stretch, nearly getting both of them obliterated by an oncoming train, just to let him go after they both managed to survive it? Was his stilted, unconvincing, overused explanation of “I owe you a ten-second car” really good enough? Not for me.

The one advantage of the Fast and the Furious ending? It left the door open for a sequel–2 Fast 2 Furious, almost as good as the first. And hey, when the alleged Jan de Bont-helmed follow-up to Point Break comes out sometime next year, maybe we’ll have a new Showdown on our hands. But until then…

Advantage: Point Break

FINAL SCORE: POINT BREAK (6) – THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (5)

3 Responses to “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown: Point Break vs. The Fast and the Furious”

  1. Matt P. said

    My fave Kiedis scene was when they jump Johnny on the beach. “That would be a waste of time…”

  2. angel tovar said

    both great movies!

  3. John said

    U, I didn’t see any of your comparisons just a lot of complaining.

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