Point of No Return (1993)

*. I didn’t have any expectations that Point of No Return would be as good as Luc Besson’s Nikita, but I didn’t think it would be this bad.
*. It should have been good. They stuck to the original’s script remarkably closely, at least through the first couple of acts. The changes they made are for the worse, but they are mainly cosmetic, basically just making it more Hollywood (in a bad, and literal, way). Nikita is now Maggie and her love interest is a photographer not a checkout clerk. She actually blows up the hotel room she brings the room service to. She and her fiancé go to New Orleans not Venice for her first undercover kill. The final target isn’t an embassy but some mansion in the hills overlooking L.A.
*. The end of the movie, however, is just a total fudge. Maggie inexplicably falls apart on her final assignment but somehow gets out of it without the assistance of a berserker Victor. We don’t get the scene where the boyfriend (what was his name? J.P. Yeah, J.P.) tells her that he knew about her double life all along. We find out that her handler Bob (Gabriel Byrne) was still in love with her. Victor the Cleaner is disposed of in a very silly, Hollywood way.
*. The cast is hit and miss, but overall I would rate it as strong. I really like Bridget Fonda and she should have been up to this part but she’s horribly misused. There’s no moment of agony when she opens up the present of the gun in the restaurant, but she breaks down in the kingpin’s lair. That makes no sense. Nikita at least had a coherent character arc. As for the rest of the names, Miguel Ferrer is as enjoyably sleazy as usual. Gabriel Byrne seems even sleepier than usual. Anne Bancroft is a strong presence that is wasted. Harvey Keitel starts off in good form as a nerdy version of Jean Reno’s Cleaner but is then simply dropped off a cliff. Tarantino would bring him back as a clean-up man the next year in Pulp Fiction.
*. So they had a good script to work with (meaning the original), and a decent cast, and they still came up with this. I blame director John Badham, who seems to have no feel for, or even interest in, the proceedings. The action and suspense sequences here all fall totally flat. Meanwhile, I could name a dozen individual shots in Nikita that stand out as so well composed and embedded as to have become nearly iconic. Point of No Return hasn’t a single one. Badham didn’t even keep any from the original!
*. Writing about this movie is making me hate it more. Because it’s so close to the original it’s one of those remakes where you have to wonder (and in my case I can only wonder) what your response would be to it if you hadn’t already seen Nikita. Would I have enjoyed it more? I like to think I wouldn’t have just because it’s such a lousy piece of filmmaking. Having seen Nikita first only made it seem worse.

6 thoughts on “Point of No Return (1993)

  1. Tom Moody

    You’re not going to like this… I saw PONR in its theatrical run in ’93 without having seen Nikita and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, I rented Nikita on VHS and fell asleep halfway through. Possibly because I already knew the story and Besson’s film did not have Bridget Fonda! And I was really tired that night. I had planned to revisit Nikita before posting this, to see what I missed, but Amazon streaming doesn’t have it so I will have to wait. Fonda is one of my favorite actresses, very down to earth and considerably sexier than her aunt. In this movie I found her so compelling I was completely sucked into the story line, probably up to the point where The Cleaner became a garden variety boogeyman. What stays with me is the scene where she goes back to the training center, thinking Anne Bancroft is some kind of friend, only to discover she’s a Stepford Mentor. I’m very curious to see how that relationship plays out with Jeanne Moreau in the role. More when I finally see the Besson (in full).

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I have a major crush on Bridget Fonda too, but I think that’s one of the reasons I disliked this movie so much, because they just couldn’t do anything with her. And her boyfriend was such a drip. But more than that, watching the two movies back-to-back on this latest re-viewing I was struck by how well Nikita has held up as a stylish thriller, and how badly Point of No Return has dated. It just seemed like a really cheesy ’90s action movie in the Lethal Weapon mode, and didn’t have any of the same impact.

      One of the things I enjoy about doing this blog is going back and watching movies I saw when I was younger and seeing if my feelings have changed about them. Sometimes I’m surprised to find that movies I thought were junk at the time really weren’t that bad. But more often it’s the other way around. Point of No Return really seems a lot weaker to me than it did twenty years ago, whereas all the highlights from Nikita have stayed fresh. I thought the remake really suffered in comparison. Just the difference in the way the scene in the basement of the hotel is shot, for example. I don’t think Badham was even trying there.

      I can’t remember the last movie I actually fell asleep during. But I was recently watching The Da Vinci Code (for the first time) and it was definitely making me drowsy.

  2. Tom Moody

    In defense of “the drip,” I took the inclusion of the character as a furtherance of the role reversal — hardened hit girl needs sensitive man — and Dermot Mulroney got the part so many women have in movies, of being a nurturer and sounding board (and audience stand-in, reacting to the freaky goings-on) with little else to do. Again, because I was so captivated by Fonda my subjective reaction was “if this is who she wants to pick up in a grocery store, I can roll with this.”

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Good point. I saw Mulroney as more of a proto-hipster (not that there’s anything wrong with hipsters, most of whom I kind of like). Marco (Nikita’s boyfriend in the original) struck me as a more likeable loser though. JP has a lot more going on, being the apartment manager and having that whole photography thing for a hobby. Marco just bags groceries and builds models of ships. I thought he seemed like a nicer, more down-to-earth, regular guy.

  3. Tom Moody

    Besson’s Nikita (they’ve dropped the femme now) showed up as a streaming movie so I watched it with full attention. It’s very strong 30 years later and beautifully shot. The “gift-wrapped gun in the restaurant” is a powerful moment and I don’t remember how it was handled in the Badham version. Anne Parillaud gets high marks for slippage between convincing tough girl, stylish looker, and vulnerable character. Once Fonda has been reformed we see almost no trace of her earlier self; with Parillaud all the character’s facets are near the surface. It’s clearer in the Badham version that the older female mentor is teaching a full range of manners, speech, and deportment to this Eliza Doolittle; with Jean Moreau as teacher (in the Besson) you see mostly only instruction in how to smile and “be feminine.” I prefer Bancroft in the role but there’s really no point in making these comparisons since, as much as I like the Badham version, it absolutely *didn’t* need to be made.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I agree. The strange/sad thing (I mentioned in my notes on Nikita) is that Besson never really went on to do anything as good. Quite an abrupt career. Though I liked The Fifth Element.


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