Welcome back to Silver Screen Feds! This week, Andy Medici brings us the most dashing federal volcanologist to ever be awarded a GS grade: Pierce Brosnan in “Dante’s Peak.” And Stephen Losey explains why our worst fed of the week IS AN EFF … BEE … EYE … AGENT!
BEST FEDS: Harry Dalton, U.S. Geological Survey, “Dante’s Peak” (Andy Medici)
Deadly volcano? Check. Acid water, poisonous ash clouds and earthquakes? Check.
One federal employee willing to risk it all to save the lives of others? You know it.
In the 1997 film “Dante’s Peak,” Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is a highly experienced and knowledgeable volcanologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who just happens to be the one person you would ever want with you in case your town’s long dormant volcano suddenly erupts into a firestorm of ash and deadly lava. The small town of Dante’s Peak — nestled ominously under a volcano of the same name — has just been named the second most livable city in America. But right away there are warning signs of volcanic activity and James Bond — I mean Harry Dalton — is dispatched to see what is going on.
He is so interested and engaged in his work that at one point he says he has “always been better at feeling out volcanoes than people and politics.” And despite his efforts at engaging the local stakeholders in a dialogue and pointing out the seemingly serious cases of animals, vegetation and people dying on the mountaintop from deadly gases and boiling acid water, he has a hard time convincing people that there is an imminent threat to their town.
When Dalton’s boss, Paul Dreyfus, arrives in town, Dreyfus undermines Dalton’s efforts and tells the townspeople that there is no issue, and that if people heard there was there would no longer be any tourism industry in their town. But while Dreyfus initially throws his employee under the bus for doing his job, Dalton gets the last laugh when Dreyfus is swallowed up in a lava flow.
When the volcano erupts, Dalton embarks with his love interest to rescue her kids, and more than likely breaks a few OSHA regulations on the way. Also, while he is great under pressure saving children from an active volcano is probably not in his job description (I could be wrong!). He goes above and beyond the call of duty and eventually gets his love interest and her children out safely.
I wonder if he has to use any annual leave during the movie? Or perhaps this counted as telework? Either way, going toe-to-toe with an active volcano definitely merits you a place among the best feds in cinema.
There’s so much that makes 1991’s “Point Break” irresistibly watchable: the thrilling surfing-and-skydiving scenes, the half-baked zen guru philosophy from Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the heartfelt bromance that unfolds between Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and Swayze as the rookie FBI agent infiltrates the surfing bank robber’s gang, the Ex-Presidents. But what puts it over the top into the realm of “camp classic” is the sheer law enforcement incompetence Johnny Utah displays as he tries to take down his brah. Reeves manages to screw up nearly every facet of the FBI’s investigation over the course of 123 minutes.
Reeves pursues the entirely wrong gang of surfing criminals at first — this one led by Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Keidis (possibly the only actor worse than Reeves in this film) — and botches a Drug Enforcement Administration undercover operation in the process.
Reeves then begins to suspect Swayze and his friends are the robbers. Reeves and his partner, Gary “Utah! Get me two!” Busey, make the baffling decision to stake out a bank they suspect the Ex-Presidents will hit … while Reeves is still supposed to be undercover. Now, I’m no FLEOA member, but it strikes me as a really bad idea to engage in cop stuff around the crooks you’re supposed to be embedded with. Unsurprisingly, Reeves gets made by Swayze’s gang after they rob the bank. He pursues Swayze, but his bum knee gives out and he falls. Reeves has Swayze in his sights, but he just … can’t … bring himself to shoot Swayze. “Point Break” hits its ludicrous peak at this point, as Reeves screams in anguish and fires his pistol over and over into the air.
So let’s review: Not only has Reeves blown his cover and worsened FBI-DEA interagency tensions, he’s also let a wanted criminal go, and to top it all off, violated who knows how many firearms regulations by pointlessly emptying a magazine into the air. I’d hate to be walking through the neighborhood that day.
Johnny Utah’s incompetence just gets worse from there. The next morning, Swayze and his gang show up at Reeves’ home. Swayze knows Reeves is FBI. Reeves knows Swayze knows Reeves is FBI. Yet instead of barricading the door, grabbing his gun and calling for backup — as any federal agent with half a brain would — Reeves … goes skydiving with him. Of course, Swayze uses the skydiving trip to buy time while one of his goons kidnaps Reeves’ surfer girlfriend.
Despite Reeves’ protests that he is “AN EFF … BEE … EYE … AGENT!” (I gotta believe Swayze’s laugh is entirely genuine after that line reading), Swayze forces Reeves to rob a bank with him. An off-duty cop and security guard are killed while trying to foil the robbery, the Ex-Presidents head to an airport to flee the country, and Gary Busey is killed in a shootout.
After getting at least two law enforcement officers and one civilian killed, Reeves once again blows it by getting taken hostage — again — by Swayze and forced aboard the getaway plane. The few surviving Ex-Presidents skydive to freedom, and Reeves dives after Swayze in a last-ditch effort to bring him to justice. He fails, as always (although Swayze does free Reeves’ captured girlfriend — for once, Agent Utah doesn’t get an innocent person killed).
In the film’s epilogue, Reeves tracks Swayze to Australia, where he is preparing to surf the so-called 50 Year Storm’s life-threatening waves. Reeves explains that the last remaining member of Swayze’s gang is dead. “You gotta go down,” Reeves helpfully explains. Although Reeves handcuffs Swayze during a final tussle, he lets the international fugitive, bank robber, and cop-killer go (again), so he can catch one last epic wave, which will surely kill him. Swayze’s not going to go free — as Reeves says, “He’s not coming back” — but his decision means that none of his gang will ever see a courtroom, let alone be convicted and serve any jail time. Which is exactly the opposite of what a federal law enforcement officer is supposed to do.
The film ends with Reeves throwing his FBI badge into the ocean, which seems like a cowardly act at first — he’s just going to let everybody else clean up his mess for him. But it’s probably the best thing he could do. At least this way, he won’t get anybody else killed.
Vaya con dios, Johnny Utah. The FBI is better off without you.