Riddled with as many clichés as bullet holes, Olympus Has Fallen tries its hardest to be a worthy throwback to the action films of the '80s and early '90s. Pitched as a “Die Hard in the White House,” there is perhaps no better description for this new movie than that exact tagline. In fact, it is more than easy to imagine this film as a rejected idea from the already well-in-decline Die Hard series.
But to be honest, moviegoers have not been this excited for director Roland Emmerich to blow up the White House since Independence Day in 1996 . . . Oh wait, he did not direct Olympus Has Fallen, Antoine Fuqua did. Emmerich helmed that other “White House is under attack and a Secret Service Agent must save the day” movie set to hit theaters later this year (and the one with the similar, yet much more obvious title of White House Down).
But back to the film at hand: In Olympus Has Fallen, disgraced former Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerald Butler) finds himself trapped in the White House as the last line of defense against a major terrorist attack. Using his inside knowledge, he works with national security to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) and prevent full-scale nuclear war.
The movie has everything you would expect from the bygone golden era of action movies – one-dimensional bad guys, over-the-top action, cheesy quips and one-liners – yet it was made almost two decades after the fact, so there is a healthy dose of CGI thrown in for good measure. It also has those persistent, negative elements that so often crumble stereotypical action films, like poorly underwritten characters (especially female ones), painfully obvious bad guy reveals, and an unnecessarily saccharine ending.
But you pretty much expect those things from this type of movie. What really makes or breaks films like this are the action sequences – how many there are and how well they are made. For the most part, the action in Olympus Has Fallen is fairly paint-by-numbers: a few gunfights here, some hand-to-hand combat there, throw in the occasional explosion, and boom – you have got a movie. Though Fuqua paces the film briskly and stuffs it with enough action so there is rarely a lull. A rather surprising element of the film is the violence, not just that is has violence of course, but its highly graphic nature as the film more than earns it R-rating with broken necks and bullet-riddled bodies.
One sequence in particular does warrant mentioning: the actual siege of the White House. Attacked from multiple points (including a terrifyingly effective and well equipped transport plane), 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. falls rather easily in a tense, chaotic, and action-packed 15-minute sequence filled with some rather haunting imagery. But after that scene, it is same old, same old from Olympus Has Fallen.
Thankfully, despite being set in D.C., politics managed to stay out of the picture even with ample opportunities to do so (drones, N. Korea, etc.). Even the villains are largely apolitical and just stick to hating America for being America.
To match all that fire power, Olympus Has Fallen also packs a whole lot of star power. Butler returns to action films after unsuccessful forays into rom-coms and family films - and is clearly more comfortable in this genre. As expected, Eckhart and Morgan Freeman are both very fitting of their Presidential roles (as the President and acting President, respectively), Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett are both all but wasted in their minor roles, and American born-Korean actor Ricky Yune is, as usual, the bad guy. Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Cole Hauser, Radha Mitchell, and Robert Forrester also appear in the film.
The final bit of info worth mentioning about Olympus Has Fallen is that it was filmed in Shreveport-Bossier City, even all the D.C. bits. Sound stages and green screens sure can accomplish a great deal in movies these days.
Olympus Has Fallen opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 22 and plays locally at Chalmette Movies, The Theatres at Canal Place, and all three AMC theatres (Elmwood, Clearview, Westbank).
If you enjoyed this story, please subscribe and read Chris's other articles: www.examiner.com/indie-movie-in-new-orleans/chris-henson
Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/thechrishenson
And for all the news & inside scoop on film events happening in & around New Orleans - festivals, screenings, casting, trailers, and much more!