Olympus Has Fallen wears its love for this country on its cinematic sleeve. American flags wave … and wave some more in slow motion splendor. The soundtrack hums with military drumming, the kind meant to inspire awe and respect. We watch as a battered nation picks itself up off the canvas to fight a ruthless band of terrorists.
Too bad it’s equally transparent regarding its shoddy screenplay and silly political gamesmanship.
The first of two “The White House is under attack!” movies coming our way this year offers an increasingly silly story that detracts from what might have been that rare, pro-America event movie.
Gerard Butler stars as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent still punishing himself for allowing the First Lady (Ashley Judd in a tiny, but technically important, role) to die on his watch. He’s reduced to pushing those darn papers around his desk when the White House comes under attack from a band of North Korean terrorists.
Luckily for everyone in the theater as well as President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) Mike manages to slip inside the White House after the terrorists capture the president. Now, it’s one man versus a small army, and if that scenario conjures up images of a barefooted Bruce Willis in Nakatomi Plaza well that’s unfortunate as Olympus is no Die Hard.
Olympus’s signature White House assault goes on forever, and you won’t want it to end. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) makes the threat emerging before our eyes feel palpable and frightening, even if the planning behind it would require pinpoint precision every step of the way.
We’ll swallow it whole, especially since it sets the stage for a righteous response from the home team.
Fuqua’s sense of adventure and drama evaporate soon thereafter, and we’re left with stock dialogue and Butler doing a poor imitation of Willis’ “I’m having a really bad day” banter. A very poor imitation.
Olympus Has Fallen essentially leaves its ideology at the ticket booth. We’re told President Asher is fighting to remove us from our dependence on foreign oil, but that’s the only party tell of consequence. The film does say the Middle East is essentially cheering the terrorists on, and while the president insists America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists that’s precisely what the acting president (Morgan Freeman, who else?) attempts to do.
Eckhart is a new kind of Commander in Chief, square jawed and itching for a fight, but he isn’t given enough to do beyond squinting and squirming while his White House colleagues get picked off.
The main villain, played by Ricky June (The Man with the Iron Fists), offers the kind of blind arrogance you need in this kind of vehicle, but without a strong script his role is hopelessly weakened.
Among other wasted assets are Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as a foul-mouthed general. Melissa Leo, whose character takes more lumps than the rest of the cast combined, acts as if she’s campaigning for her own spin-off action franchise.
Some may be offended to see The Washington Monument buckle in creepy homage to the Twin Towers during Olympus Has Fallen. The bigger offense is watching so much patriotic potential go up in smoke.