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'Olympus Has Fallen': 'Die Hard' for millennials

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Olympus Has Fallen

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'Olympus Has Fallen' begins with former Special Forces and current Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gergard Butler) assigned to Presidential Detail when things go horribly wrong. He is close friends with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd) and their son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), which makes it all the more wrenching when a freak accident on Christmas causes the President's car to swerve off a bridge. Only the President and his son survive. Banning's failure to save the First Lady haunts his conscience and his career.

Eighteen months later, Banning has been transferred to the Treasury Department, just a working schlub pushing papers like the rest of us. But it's a good thing he's near the White House, because during a visit by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Tae-Woo (Keong Sim), North Korea conducts an all-out assault on the White House grounds, while treasonous agents assigned to the Prime Minister attack from within. As garbage trucks laden with chain guns open fire, helicopters enter White House airspace while destroying their fighter escorts, and every failsafe fails, 'Olympus Has Fallen' gleefully just keeps upping the destruction in the hope you don't notice how ridiculous it all is.

What ensues is a series of tense standoffs as the unknown agent working behind enemy lines -- Banning -- singlehandedly takes out the bad guys while redeeming himself in the eyes of the President. He starts out with nothing but his bare hands, but slowly makes his way up the villain food chain until he's foiling a plot that could threaten the security of the entire U.S. And oh yeah, there's a gun-wielding robot called Hydra 6 that shows up on the White House roof at one point.

It's hard to be too angry at "Olympus Has Fallen," because it just follows in the tradition of average Joe vs. sophisticated villains. We've only seen poor imitations of this anti-hero since Bruce Willis' "Die Hard" debuted -- which are now parodied by Willis himself in later sequels. Thing is, Willis' John McClane was only part of the formula. You need the usual ingredients: brilliant bad guys with multi-layered schemes, bumbling authorities who are unprepared, and victims caught in the crossfire that are more important than they might at first appear. But most importantly the film must take itself deadly seriously. Part of the fun of "Die Hard" is feeling that the odds are so against McClane, despite the fact that we know he's going to succeed anyway.

Butler can't quite pull off Willis' level of rough charisma, and the film isn't willing to torture Banning more than the flashback to loss of the First Lady. The plot is patently absurd (from the Cerberus protocols to the gunship robot, none of it makes a lick of sense), but it is executed with such relentless verve that you can't help but admire director Antoine Fuqua's enthusiasm. That doesn't make this a good film, merely an entertaining one. If you're looking for a good old American good vs. Axis of Evil showdown, "Olympus Has Fallen" will do nicely.

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