The idea of achieving enlightenment, if not just a breed of physical perfection, is embedded in the more grueling fitness regimes of the day. Ultimate fighters, extreme-sports nuts, and CrossFitters alike seem to unite in habits that split the difference between the militaristic and religious: They engage in ascetic, anachronistic diets and unholy, life-denying training regimens, exhibiting elevated senses of self-worth. Ericson Core’s remake of Point Break takes the modern athlete’s Zen-like aspirations to one logical extreme. In its philosophical and criminal investigations (largely imported from Kathryn Bigelow’s original), the film moves in dozens of illogical directions, but not without achieving a patina of earnest credibility.
Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) is the newly minted F.B.I. agent tasked with infiltrating a band of thieves suspected of undermining capitalistic tendencies with brazen criminal acts. In the original, their feats had a compellingly narrow purpose: The “Ex-Presidents” just followed the surf, funding lives spent off the grid by robbing local banks. In the remake, the criminal element are suspected international eco-terrorists. For their first trick, they invade a diamond vault on motorcycles, ransack it, and parachute out of the building, before handing the jewels over to impoverished citizens of Mumbai.
Utah, a motocross specialist who retires from the sport after the death of his best friend, smells the whiff of the “extreme-sports poly-athlete.” He hypothesizes that the criminals’ Robin Hood tactics are being integrated into the “Ozaki Eight,” a fictional series of diverse athletic feats that honor the varying forces of nature with the ultimate promise of enlightenment. Utah, alongside partner-in-crime Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone), meets up with the suspects in a historic storm swell off the coast of France. Core, pulling double-duty as Point Break’s cinematographer, gives rolling waves a strikingly literal definition. When Utah attempts to show off for the group, the waves swallow him up. As in the original, the inciting incident both confirms his amateurism and leads him to charismatic leader Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez).
Part of the lasting appeal of Bigelow’s original is how it serves as both a product of and a modest corrective to the heedless capitalism of its era: The film’s restless, peak-Bruckheimer edits mellowed at the beach, mirroring Utah’s philosophical lure to Bodhi, who merely sought a way ought of the system. Core’s version, written by Kurt Wimmer, has the makings of a more complex ideological agenda. Using Utah’s shallow pragmatism (and Lacey’s dim performance) as a cudgel, Bodhi questions Utah’s ability to commit himself to self-abnegating acts, and criticizes his past as a peddler of sports drinks. Bodhi, along with his bearded, steely-eyed, Occupy-chic peers, espouse enlightenment and purity while condemning capitalism and global warming. At the same time, they’re funded by a young, slimy French millionaire and take refuge at chillwave yacht parties in international waters and modernist micro-structures buried on European mountainsides.
Point Break doesn’t make much of this hypocrisy, perhaps because it’s too busy glossing over a series of plot holes that jostle the foundations of the time-space continuum. (In one instance, Utah traces Bodhi to a bank in a remote Italian village, and arrives there from an F.B.I. office before the robbery is complete.) Utah joins Bodhi and company for an epic snowboard ride, and a wing-suited glide through the sky and craggy chasms. It’s rarely clear where we are or how we got here, but Core nonetheless delivers some vertiginous 3D thrills. Like the rest of the film, his action sequences lack clear purpose or spatial goals, but they thrive in the moment. Frames filled with water or pure white snow (and lots of impressive stunt work) deliver on some of Bodhi’s vague, increasingly redundant promises of nirvana.
It’s quite late in the game before Utah has to reconcile his sympathy with Bodhi and his podunk sense of right and wrong, and any shred of moral ambiguity is quickly and dispiritingly set aside. Ramírez, though, grants Bodhi’s gnomic musings an element of sex appeal that elevates both their meaninglessness and the elusiveness of his character. With his help, Point Break has a searching quality that, however inarticulate, is in tune with a political moment where the individual realizes their powerlessness and then tries to disrupt the powerful anyway, seeking out aesthetic bliss and physical mastery at the same time. When, at the film’s climax, a character says, “Isn’t it beautiful?,” over and over in increasingly urgent tones, you might briefly feel like you’ve stumbled into a Michael Mann movie rather than this structurally inept but very nearly thoughtful one.