The 1991 film Point Break tells the classic crime story of a fresh-faced FBI agent named Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) forced to go undercover to take down a team of surfers who rob banks while wearing Halloween masks of former Presidents. The Ex-Presidents are led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a thrill-seeking free spirit who only believes in adrenaline. In the course of his investigation, Utah becomes somewhat enthralled by Bodhi’s approach to life, but the two eventually collide as Utah is forced to choose between his duty to uphold the law and his desire to protect the woman he loves (Lori Petty).
But Utah wasn’t always a lawman. In college, he was an accomplished quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes. That legally gives me the right – nay, the obligation – to review the character and identify his most Ohio State features for this college football website.
I have broken this question into three parts: Utah’s athletic prowess, his aesthetic, and his personality. This is what’s known in the industry as film review, and it is very important work.
In the cinematic universe presented by the film, Utah led the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl win over USC but suffered a gruesome knee injury in the fourth quarter that destroyed his pro prospects. Please keep in mind that when this film was released, in 1991, the only two Ohio State QBs of note in the NFL were Mike Tomczak and Tom Tupa. To say that Johnny Utah could have been the greatest Buckeye passer in NFL history would not be clearing an impossible bar.
There is a beach football scene in Point Break, where most of that backstory is established. (It’s interesting that Utah agrees to play beach football despite having destroyed his knee and working a secret job that requires him to be physically active. I assume the FBI health insurance plan at the time was quite good.)
Based on that limited tape, we can conclude a few things about Utah as a quarterback.
- He’s primarily a pocket passer; the only time he scrambles or throws from outside the pocket is on a play action pass.
- He thrives on short drops and (probably) short passes. The one time he takes a longer drop, Utah is nearly sacked and throws an incomplete pass.
- Though we’re using a small sample size, he isn’t a multi-position threat, since we never see him run with the ball or catch a pass.
That wouldn’t be a good representation of a modern Ohio State quarterback, but J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones and Dwayne Haskins weren’t even born when this movie was released, and Terrelle Pryor had just turned two. At this point, to be the starting QB for the Buckeyes meant throwing 240 passes for 7.6 yards an attempt and 17 touchdowns. And Utah’s game is entirely consistent with that.
Utah also makes one defensive play in the scene, tackling Bodhi into the ocean. Arguably, that’s a late hit out of bounds, and a perfectly Buckeye move.
But Point Break is mostly not a football movie. So what do Utah’s other athletic exploits reveal how Ohio State he is?
- When Utah first goes into the Pacific Ocean, he nearly drowns. This portrayal is flawless; to a true Ohioan, the sea should be as unfamiliar and dangerous as the surface of Venus. The Ohio State aquatic expertise is limited to lakes, rivers, pools, maybe a particularly exciting trip to Wisconsin Dells. The only thing that would improve this scene would be Utah remarking how strange it is that California’s on Lake Michigan.
- At one point, we see an entire weight set in Utah’s bedroom.
We never see Utah use any of that machinery, but 1) it’s there and 2) it’s specifically in his bedroom, despite the fact that he seems to live in a house with multiple other rooms where it could go. This was an absolutely inspired choice by the set design team.
- During a skydiving scene, Utah and the Ex-Presidents form an O.
Would sky-dotting the i have been better? Yes, but then you’d need a much larger team of bank robbers.
Point Break is a beach movie. As such, many characters appear without their shirts on. Swayze’s the most obvious example, but even Gary Busey’s first scene has him bare-chested.
Utah, however, has a shirt on until 48 minutes into the film, despite being in Southern California and spending a lot of time at the beach. There are only two things that prompt Utah to remove his shirt: sex and going to sleep. That’s the kind of Midwestern torso modesty we expect from an Ohio State graduate.
Speaking of sleep, remember that exercise station in Utah’s bedroom? The rest of the decor is equally bizarre. He’s got a bed on the floor, and he’s put black bedding on it.
I’m pretty sure that phone on the left is just resting on a cardboard box, and you’ll also spot the Buckeye helmet on the other side of the bed. It’s an alarm clock.
This is a pretty dirtbag setup! Maybe you’re thinking it’s part of Utah’s cover and he’s trying to play the part of a rules-flouting surfer dude. But that’s not what the movie lays out: Utah has told the surf gang (and Lori Petty) that he’s a lawyer who’s getting into surfing. So why does he have this garbage bedroom?
Because he’s an Ohio State Buckeye.
Naturally, Utah mostly wears grey and black and white shirts throughout the film. When he’s in a suit, that’s either grey or black as well. Importantly, there’s one piece of clothing you never see Utah wear at any point – an FBI jacket. And there’s a simple reason why.
They’ve got Michigan colors! Even if it would help identify Utah to fellow agents and the public as an FBI agent, making his job safer, he just cannot put that jacket on. It would betray every value he learned in Columbus.
Now, Utah does break the rule against blue clothing to wear jeans a few times. During the opening credits, he’s rocking a black tee shirt tucked into jeans while doing a run on an FBI marksmanship course. Of note: it is absolutely pouring rain.
For a non-Buckeye, this would be a very bad choice for the weather, and one can only imagine how uncomfortable those jeans were by the end of that day of shooting. But one doesn’t play or watch Ohio State football for the comfort. A true Buckeye knows this soggy denim is the mark of a blue collar champion, one who doesn’t give a shit about some meteorologist with a Syracuse degree or if you told him to “bring a poncho just in case.” LIONS DO NOT CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE WEATHER OPINIONS OF SHEEP.
That look comes back at the end of the film. Special Agent Utah confronts Bodhi on Bells Beach in Australia, having chased his adversary across multiple countries and continents. He knows Bodhi will be here for a once-in-a-lifetime storm off the Australian coast. And this is what Utah chooses to wear to a rainy beach:
Again, it’s pouring. This wildly impractical outfit again just reinforces Utah’s Ohio State-ness. You will rip these damp jeans from his cold, dead hips.
On his first day in the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Special Agent John Utah, fresh out of the Academy, does the following:
- Lies to his boss about being a healthy eater by grabbing an office donut in front of said boss mere minutes after telling that lie
- Yells at his new partner about being a worthless, tired old man who should just retire
- Pounds Coronas while working late
A Michigan grad would have tried to suck up to the boss. A Michigan State grad might have quietly grumbled to themselves about this crusty excuse for a mentor. A Northwestern grad would have waited until they got back home and consumed exactly half a glass from a $110 bottle of white wine, confident that the wine was good because it was $110.
Johnny Utah didn’t do any of those things, because Johnny Utah’s a goddamn Buckeye.
Later, Utah is attacked by a different surfer gang, which includes Ret Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis. Bodhi rescues him and stops the fracas, and Utah responds by ... immediately punching one of his attackers, starting the fight up all over again. Tell me you can’t see that happening in some Ohio State-Penn State game.
Finally, let’s return to the final scene. Utah reveals he’s brought a bunch of Australian police with him, and this is the end of the line for Bodhi. But then Bodhi successfully convinces Utah to allow him one last thrill ride: surfing in the middle of a 50 year storm. The Aussies, understandably, are pissed. What was the point of bring out a helicopter and all these officers if Utah was just fine with Bodhi drowning instead of being apprehended? Plus they don’t even get to surf!
Utah doesn’t care one bit, In one of his most Ohio State moves of the film, he’s traveled all the way to a foreign country just to piss off the local cops.
Johnny Utah isn’t a perfect fictional Ohio State quarterback. He doesn’t have any regrettable tattoos, he never wears a sweatshirt of any kind, and he never even mentions the Cincinnati Bengals or the Cleveland Browns. But within the limits of a 1991 surfer crime action film, this is a damn fine representation of all things Buckeye.