Several years ago, Birthmoviesdeath ran an editorial with the provocative title: “Johnny Utah is an (awful) FBI agent.”
Now, I’m a reasonable guy; Birthmoviesdeath is my go-to for movie stuff, and they have affirmed their appreciation for the glory of the cinematic wonder that is Point Break; and I always take several grains of salt with pieces such as this. But as I got further and further into this article…son, my blood began to boil.
The gist – for those not in a position to read two inane think-pieces about a 1991 film that features a cult of surfers who rob banks – is that the protagonist, aforementioned “Johnny Utah” (played by our greatest living actor, Keanu Reeves), a fresh-from-the-academy junior agent at the LA division of the FBI, is directly responsible for all the magnificent chaos and damage caused in his pursuit of the enigmatic “Ex-Presidents”. His lack of objectivity leads to people being killed; his poor decision making leads to criminals escaping justice; his non-existent planning leads to one disaster after another.
Just so you know: That’s not right.
The film plays with the tried and tested trope of the undercover cop who gets too immersed in their cover that it may jeopardise the whole operation. Convinced that the bank robbers they’re tasked with finding are actually full-time surfers, Agent Utah falls in with the charismatic (and just…so dreamy) Bhodi.
Ok, full disclosure: I’m about to spoil stuff here. If you haven’t seen this 28 year old movie and desire to take it in based on the vision of beauty above, go ahead. I’ll wait. This will keep. Everybody else, let’s move on.
You know how the show goes: Johnny becomes more enamoured of the surfing way of life that he doesn’t realise (until too late) that his new best friend is actually the leader of the gang he’s after. Yes, things go badly for so, so many people. But I’m about to drop a bombshell on you. It’s not Johnny’s fault. And if you like that, here’s another one: Bhodi’s not really the villain of the film. The dude draws Johnny into his circle of friends when everyone else clearly wants to write him off; he just up and gives Johnny a new surfboard after he uses the old one to belt the tar out of a Surf-Nazi; he’s totally cool with Johnny hooking up with his own cute ex-girlfriend (Lori Petty); he surprises Johnny by bringing him on a skydive…which is really expensive you guys. Bhodi’s the best!
I’ll tell you who the villain is.
This. F****ing. Guy.
Deputy Director Ben Harp is the reason why Johnny Utah and his senior partner, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), are unable to their jobs. There, I finally said it. I feel so much better now.
From the very start, Harp is antagonistic towards Utah. Upon his arrival, Harp leads Johnny on his orientation, during which Johnny is respectful, compliant, answers quickly and accurately when quizzed on crime statistics relevant to the region, demonstrates lifestyle choices consistent with Harp’s ideals…and then – apropos of nothing – calls Johnny dumb and an a**hole. Though tasked with finding the Ex-Presidents and ending their crime spree, Harp clearly gives the thumbs up to a different team (Alvarez and Babbit) taking evidence away from Utah and Pappas without asking. That’s borderline interference. As the undercover plan gets underway, Harp pulls the team into his office to scream at them about not working fast enough, dammit! Johnny drops his own bombshell a moment later: in order to build his cover to work the case, he is surfing and meeting surfers on his own time. That means Johnny is working full time every day, then working in his time off, and getting critisised for it.
One of the more egregious mistakes that occurs is when Johnny conducts a raid on his prime suspects – a group of hyper-aggressive, territorial, anti-social surfer-bros – only to discover that they were, in fact, already targets in an undercover operation by the DEA. Tom Seizemore makes an appearance to berate them for blowing his cover and months of living with them to get them and a bigger fish behind bars. Ok, feel bad for you bro, this was not a good day. However, let me point out that our two douchy friends, Alvarez and Babbit, were on the scene “covering the back door”. When Johnny spots the Surf-Nazis pulling an arsenal of automatic weapons, he immediately tells Alvarez to stop Angelo from going ahead with the raid. Unable to make out the message due to noise…Alvarez just takes his earpiece out and ignores it. Add to that dropped ball the fact that in the raid actual, Utah and Pappas take down the armed group largely themselves; all Alvarez and Babbit do is clumsily fall over onto DEA Tom Seizemore. A more important question I have always had: When an agent believes he has a suspect and is prepared to raid their residence, do they not require authorisation from their superior? We can assume Harp gave the thumbs up to the operation. Follow up question: When a law enforcement agency enters into an undercover operation with a long-term payoff, would they not have some manner of red flag to let other agencies know not to come near? Who would be the one responsible for checking such information?
Oh, hello Director Harp…you gigantic tool.
Harps attitude leaves Utah and Pappas without any assistance or backup when they end up chasing the real culprits through the streets of LA. Later when Johnny has been present at the robbery in which several people have been killed – which, admittedly, would not be a short explanation to sit through – Harp again forces the duo to attempt to capture the armed and dangerous criminals on their own.
I’ve worked with some difficult people. I’ve had some bosses who have made unreasonable demands of me. I’ve been exploited by uncaring management along with the best of you. But I have never in my 37 years tried to work for a supervisor who has actively sabotaged my efforts to do the job he demands I do faster…dammit.
There is an epilogue to Point Break that exists in my head, whereby the FBI Internal Affairs conduct a review of Harp. It makes me smile when I think about it.
Anyway. Johnny Utah is vindicated. Harp sucks. Via Con Dios, Bhodi.
Oh, and Point Break rules.