'Point Break' on stage? Catch it in San Francisco
by Jim Harrington
CAN YOU KEANU?
That's the question posed to all those who attend "Point Break Live," the campy theatrical adaptation of the 1991 cult classic film. The folks who believe they have the right stuff, and can handle the part Keanu Reeves played in the film "Point Break," are then asked to prove it.
They audition right in front of the audience, which chooses the winner with a show of often inebriated applause. The newly anointed Johnny Utah (Reeves' character in the film) joins an ensemble comprosed of longtime theater vets and the company proceeds to stage a two-hour-plus live rendition of "Point Break."
The guy — or, in some cases, gal — who performs as Utah gets no time to rehearse. All the Utah lines are read off cue cards — a procedure intended, according to the show's press release, "to capture Keanu Reeves' raw acting talent."
The whole thing is a good-natured laugh at Reeves' expense, as well as a sarcastic tribute to a corny cult classic, but it's also a major hit. Capacity crowds turn out each Friday to see "Point Break Live," which will be presented through May — and, in all likelihood, will be extended quite longer — at CELLSpace in San Francisco.
The obvious response to all of this is: Why? Why make such a fuss over an 18-year-old film with a laughable plot, juvenile dialogue and insanely over-the-top performances by Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey? Actually, those are some of the exact reasons why it's a modern-day cult classic.
"I think it's one of those guilty-pleasure movies," says Thomas Blake, the stage show's co-director/co-producer. "It was, in so many ways, so terrible that it became really good."
The Kathryn Bigelow-directed 1991 movie "Point Break" follows a group of surfers who finance their big-wave expeditions by robbing banks while wearing masks of former U.S. presidents. Johnny Utah is a former college football star turned FBI agent sent to infiltrate the "Dead Presidents" gang.
The dialogue was filled with plenty of earnest mystic mumbo-jumbo, usually spouted by surfer/shaman Bodhi (Swayze). The film was a box office hit, but critics blasted it for the same reasons it became a campy cult classic — the entirely too earnest acting; an absurd plotline; and, perhaps most important, campy, easily parroted dialogue sprinkled with lofty Zen platitudes.
"Fans of the movie have the movie pretty much memorized," says "Point Break Live" actor Sharon Rylander. "And that's another part of the appeal: There are these iconic lines littered through the film."
Time will tell if "Point Break" will reach the iconic campy cult classic status of, say, "Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Reefer Madness" arguably three of the biggest cult films of all time.
"Rocky Horror" was campy from the start, and has become a household name for its midnight screenings of people armed with costumes, props and knowledge of every line in the film. It currently screens at the Vine Cinema in Livermore the first Saturday of each month (925-447-2545, www.vinecinema.com); the Clay Theatre in San Francisco the fourth Saturday of each month (415-267-4893, www.landmarktheatres.com); and the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park the first Saturday of every month (650-266-9260, www.landmarktheatres.com). All shows are at midnight.
"Plan 9" is an earnest, cheaply made sci-fi classic by famed B-movie director Ed Wood Jr. "Reefer Madness" was a deadly serious, melodramatic propaganda film made in 1936 that attempted to convince teens of the dangers of marijuana. It has inspired a spoof musical and an HBO movie.
Of course, lots of "classics" qualify for cult status and an homage. Head to Tracy's Grand Center Theatre for the Arts on April 17-18 and you can catch "Gilligan's Island: The Musical" (more information is at www.artintheburbs.com).
The most important factor of any cult classic — regardless of whether its original intention was to qualify for that genre — is that it has to make you laugh. And people still laugh at "Point Break."
"There's just something about that movie that is so hilarious," says actor Dewey Weber, who will take over the role of Bodhi in San Francisco later this month.
The ones that laugh loudest at "Point Break" these days appear to be twenty-somethings.
"Look at the age group of everyone here," says Weber, who points around CELLSpace before a performance. "They're all of a certain age."
And that age has a zeal for B-grade pop culture (i.e., most of the programming on VH1), and "liking something you know you're not supposed to like." Sometimes, the cult film producer is in on the joke (see: "Hairspray" or "Evil Dead"), and sometimes he isn't (director Paul Verhoeven in "Showgirls").
Reeves is the reigning king of the second group, a factor that earned his twenty-something following.
"If you are a guy in your 20s and you haven't seen 'Point Break' over 10 times, you are weird," says 23-year-old San Franciscan Jake Bayham, who attended a recent "Point Break Live" with his 24-year-old girlfriend, Jacqueline Hamill.
"Point Break Live" began in 2001 in Seattle, where producers had a hard time casting the Reeves part.
"Everyone was too good," Blake says. "So, they said, 'Oh, let's pick someone out of the audience.' And they found out that worked the best."
Eight years later — with runs in New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, as well as a six-month stand in San Francisco last year — that decision to cast from the crowd is still working out quite well.
"It's a genius move," adds Weber. "Because, like, who can't do Keanu?"
Last Friday night, the role of Johnny Utah was handled by Harris Masket. The Oakland resident, a doctor by day, definitely did his homework just in case he was chosen to fill Keanu's wetsuit.
"I rented the movie again," he admits, "just to brush up."
Masket, we should point out, has a background in acting. Yet, despite that glaring weakness in his resume, he still did a fine job in the role — and, according to the plan, so would you.
"It is impossible to fail," Rylander says. "It really doesn't matter what the Keanu character is like. There has never been, in the history of the show, a bad Keanu. So, anybody who gets chosen as Keanu doesn't have to worry."