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Point Break's FBI Agents Are Mormon, And Other Crazy Real-Life Inspirations
Toxic Sludge, Bank Robbery Capitals, and the Most Inept Investigation in a Non-Comedy
One of the hardest things about writing fiction is including something you have no experience with. The story must remain compelling and believable despite any knowledge gaps you bring to the table. People love to say 'write what you know,' but in my experience, 'fake it till you make it' is more applicable.
Fortunately, we don't really need to reinvent the wheel–the Internet has made this sort of thing somuch easier. Too easy, in fact. We'll never know how many unfinished novels are ultimately abandoned by writers who stumble into that vast wonderland and get distracted measuring how deep the rabbit hole goes. It's an undefinable number, but I can safely say it's a lot. Writers generally don't need help procrastinating, but procrastination disguised as research is like lacing chocolate with nicotine–it's unnecessary. We were gonna eat that Snickers anyway.
We had libraries in the 80s. Remember encyclopedias? My family was solidly middle class, but everyone I knew had a collection of handsome, leather-bound volumes collecting dust on the shelf. Encyclopedias were cool for looking up random information about Nicaragua or sabre-toothed tigers or any other topic you were assigned for homework. I'm sure they had a reasonably thorough entry on the FBI. At least enough information to point a clueless writer in the right direction.
I can only assume screenwriter W. Peter Iliff was unfamiliar with libraries, encyclopedias, and perhaps books in general, because the FBI agents in Point Break are bumbling idiots with badges. Granted, Point Break is not meant to be Sicario or Donnie Brasco; it's too ironically righteous to be taken completely at face value. Satire is baked in from the start. You can debate whether that's unintentional–my vote is that it's not–but Iliff's statements about masculinity and society's systematic dismantling of the soul lose their gusto when the cops are doing their best Roscoe P. Coltrane impersonation. If not for director Kathryn Bigelow's influence, Point Break could've tipped fully into parody.
As covered previously, Iliff based the Ex-Presidents and Bodhi on real people he'd met while waiting tables. We must assume there were no FBI agents frequenting the restaurant. Instead, Iliff modeled his FBI agents after a stereotype, and not a very good one, either. In his own words:
"At that time, there were a lot of Mormons involved... Short hair, you can't smoke dope. It's a very rigid thing. To become an agent, you were either military or law or accounting... These aren't party guys and gals. This is what Utah has gotten himself into. He's gotten himself into a bunch of people that seem to have a stick up their ass." Iliff on the 'A Script Apart' podcast
Which directly leads to Agent Harp (John C. McGinley) asking Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) what he eats for breakfast, and if he avoids caffeine and sugar. "We don't drink and we sure as hell don't smoke." This, in turn, brings us to the most memorable line of the entire film. Harp isn't impressed with Utah's whole deal. Maybe he's responding to Keanu's laidback demeanor, which comes bleeding through despite Utah's assurances that he takes the skin off his chicken. So Harp rips into him. "You're a real blue flame special, aren't you son? Young, dumb, and full of cum."
I'll remind you that Harp has known Utah for all of about 10 seconds.
Let's briefly put aside the gross unprofessionalism and brain-straining incredulity. There's a bigger question demanding to be asked, but first, some observational humor: How does Harp write performance reviews? I'm imagining something like, "Agent Utah shows promise with his disgust for chicken skin, but this morning he ate an entire pumpernickel bagel. Continues to show an indifference toward processed carbs. Still young and dumb. Semen sample pending."
Here's the Big Question, one that demands its own cushion of white space and also all the emphasis I can muster: Is this how Iliff thinks Mormons talk?
Just giving that question the space to breathe by dropping a ‘give me more of this’ button.
I don't know how it is where you live, but periodically here in Michigan, Mormons go door-to-door, professing their faith and inviting you to join them. It's similar to how Jehovah's Witnesses, erm, witness. Michigan Mormons (don't know if that's what they call themselves, but it has a nice ring to it) typically travel in pairs, are college-aged, clean-cut, and usually carry backpacks. If you mistakenly open the door, they are friendly and take "thanks, but no thanks" with grace. I don't know if they have a quota to meet, but even short of that, they must get an awful lot of "nos" mixed in with some "hell nos" and a few "get the hell off my porches." But my few interactions have been pleasant enough and they were gracious in defeat.
Maybe Mormons are just built different in California. It is closer to their heartland, that being Utah, obviously. (I'm totally talking out of my butt here, and am making wild assumptions based on the teeny bit I think I know, which is formed entirely on bad reality TV and gossip.) Maybe in Cali, Mormons skulk down the street, eyeballing houses the way a con artist gauges a mark. "Not this house. Lookit–there's a Mustang in the driveway and a swing on the porch. These people are lousy with semen. Let's try the next one."
As ridiculous as that sounds, it's pretty much the only satisfying explanation for the behavior of Iliff's Mormon-inspired lead FBI agent. Either California Mormons are cut from a way different cloth or Iliff was doing his best Ace Ventura impersonation. I think we can safely call it the latter.
I quickly want to circle back to something else Harp said. Before he starts making wild assumptions about Utah's bodily fluids, he calls him a "blue flamer." For the longest time, I thought he was calling Utah a Blue Man Group homosexual or a Bunsen burner fetishist. Urban Dictionary helpfully defines a 'blue flamer' as a new hire chomping at the bit to make a difference. The phrase is typically used in law enforcement. So at least Iliff got that part right.
Keep reading for a Point Break edition of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction and an analysis of the most incompetent undercover operation in film history, as well as the usual humor and nonsense you’ve come to expect from my brand of writing. It’s free!