Olympus Has Fallen
Full of faux patriotism and American bombast, the new action film "Olympus Has Fallen" hits every note you’d expect and then some. Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") the film appears to have been forced through the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking and churned out the other side looking like a late 90’s thriller that is as predictable as it is chuckle-worthy.
The plot concerns Secret Service agent named Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) who is President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) best protector (and sparring buddy). But when an accident on a bridge causes tragedy, he leaves his post in shame and gets a desk job.
Eighteen months later, the South Koreans are heading to the White House for a visit to discuss tensions with North Korea. (This is uncomfortably close to reality.) But during negotiations, a Super Chopper attacks DC. Many innocent people are injured and killed, and soon enough the White House is under attack. In a carefully staged takeover, a group of North Korean terrorists get onto the White House lawn and inside. Carnage ensues.
But what’s this? Banning is nearby in his office and sees what’s happening. Before you can say "God Bless America," Banning finds himself in the middle of the fray and eventually the only one alive inside the decimated White House. (To be honest, it seemed awfully easy to get access.) The President and his closest confidants are all down in his bunker, but they’ve taken the South Koreans with them. And wouldn’t you know? Most of them are traitors. Soon enough the President and Friends are taken hostage. What do the North Korean terrorists want, you ask? It seems they want the infamous Cerberus Codes, of which there are three. And only three people know one code apiece. Cute, right? Well, in order for the US to be saved, Mike Banning needs to: 1) single-handedly save the President’s missing son and 2) get to the bunker to rescue the President. It’s pretty much "Die Hard in the White House."
"Olympus Has Fallen" ("Olympus" being the code name for the White House itself) is such a paint-by-numbers movi, you can count the beats as they happen. Sometimes, you can even mouth the dialogue along with the actors. Speaking of actors, this film inexplicably has some heavyweights involved. Aside from Butler and Eckhart, there’s Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, Angela Basset as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs, Melissa Leo as President Asher’s Secretary of Defense, and supporting roles from Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Ashley Judd, and Rick Yune as the head baddie, Kang. Yet somehow, with all this talent, the film can’t get out from under the pedestrian script by newcomers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. The dialogue is stilted and stale. The movie telegraphs every big moment by obviously setting up everything in advance. They literally hang a lantern on every important setup so that when it’s used later we say, "Ohhhhh, riiiiiight, the President’s son knew all about the secret passageways." Worse still is the fact that many of these Hollywood Heavyweights spend most of the film sitting around a large conference table in a command center; a command center, mind you, with a huge screen on which Kang appears to bark out his demands. And when he hangs up, the screen largely says "communication disconnected." It’s the overtness of these moments that makes the film feel incredibly cheap and comical.
But the reaction shots of the supporting cast are the best thing about this movie. And by best, I mean, most hilarious and almost worth paying money to see. The film is filled with big name actors saying things such as, "Oh. My. God." and, "Can we TRUST him?" with deadly seriousness. Mouths are often hanging open, there’s a lot of leaning forward on the table to show emotional exhaustion, and of course, the slow sit-back-down as they hang their heads in defeat. I mean, can Angela Bassett get cast in something that doesn’t require an atrocious wig and sitting around a table in a tailored suit barking incomprehensible jargon? She’s so good. Why is she still playing the same character she played in "Contact?"
Even funnier, though, is that this movie is inhabited by the worst extras ever captured on film. Truly, these poor day players are awful. When we cut to a hospital to catch poor Radha Mitchell tending to the injured in the DC attack, there are literally actors wailing dramatically and stumbling through the hallways. I half expected the guy from the control tower in "Airplane" to start making origami or for a Muppet to bounce across the screen waving its arms around. There’s even a scene where Mitchell takes a phone call from Butler (they are married) and the man on the gurney next to her is audible moaning dramatically. If you were high, this movie would be totally worth seeing in the theatre.
Butler is fairly good here and makes a great hero, so it’s unfortunate that the script had to be so terrible. It’s also surprising that director Fuqua has somehow lost his gritty flash and dazzle and settled into Michael Bay territory. Everything here is overly dramatic and meant to rile up American audiences into a patriotic frenzy. When the bullet-ridden American flag is lowered by the enemy and thrown from the roof of the White House in all its melodramatic slow-motion glory, you can’t help but guffaw. But then again, there are those in this country that this will absolutely work for. It’s a movie tailor-made for rabid supporters of the Second Amendment and border control. For the rest of us, it’s a silly exercise in excess.