Formula Hollywood product seldom gets sillier than this. A messy blend of “Die Hard” and season 7 of “24,” the new movie “Olympus Has Fallen” summons all the implausibility of both franchises while mustering the entertainment value of neither.
Gerard Butler, who also co-produced, plays Mike Banning, the favorite Secret Service agent of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). When we first meet them, they’re having a manly sparring match in the basement at Camp David, without head gear. So you want to be the Secret Service agent assigned to the president and explain that he forgot the launch codes because you gave him a concussion?
But that little quandry sums up the entire tone of “Olympus Has Fallen,” which was written by first time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Their screenplay consistently plays like a college screenwriting assignment that deservedly got a C. We can always tell what movies they’ve seen. They persistently and aggravatingly imitate them with the mindless repetition of a not especially bright parrot.
After a thoroughly unnecessary 10 minute prologue which sets up why Banning is on the outs with the president (it’s also summed up in about three lines of dialogue, which proves my point as to the unnecessary part), Rothenberger and Benedikt finally get around to the story, which has something to do with rogue North Koreans (is there another kind?) invading the White House and holding the president, the vice president and the Secretary of Defense hostage.
Butler is an underrated leading man, and is in good form here. But Eckhart plays President Asher with all the conviction you’d expect of a matinee idol retreading Bill Pullman in “Independence Day.” It doesn’t help that his character is written as a complete idiot. But he isn’t alone. Most of the characters in this movie act like idiots. The whole point of the Speaker of the House taking on the duties of Acting President because both the president and vice president are being held hostage is completely mooted if the acting president is willing to negotiate with the terrorists holding them. The office is supposed to be more important than the man holding it. But that lack of perception absolutely pervades this film, resulting in a movie which is, paradoxically, utterly implausible while relentlessly predictable.
Movie geeks are going to be tempted to run this side-by-side with “Die Hard,” checking off the duplicated scenes. It’ll keep them busy. But while “Olympus Has Fallen” is certainly a “Die Hard” knock-off, “Die Hard” adroitly put its hero in the wrong place at the wrong time that we never questioned his being there. Butler’s Mike Banning has to run blocks to the White House dodging machine gun fire and then lets himself in the front door in the middle of a pitched firefight. It’s a wonder he didn’t think to bring a pizza.
The invade-the-White House premise was also done on season 7 of Fox’s TV series “24.” But where “24” managed to create its own universe where, well frankly, “24” was possible, “Olympus Has Fallen” tries to put this in the real world, even using actual news announcers onscreen. And where Kathryn Bigelow used a dark screen and sound to evoke memories of 9/11 in “Zero Dark Thirty,” without dredging up archival footage, here the filmmakers crassly mimic all-too familiar images, such as a large plane knocking over part of the Washington Monument.
Antoine Fuqua, a perfectly competent director, takes the reins on this mess, and his job is essentially to keep wild horses in check. He has a good supporting cast: Morgan Freeman plays the Speaker of the House, Melissa Leo is the Secretary of Defense and Angela Bassett is the Director of the Secret Service. None of them are at their best here. Freeman, in particular, phones his performance in and brings only a fraction of his trademark, low key gravitas. Angela Bassett leans on conference tables and looks at video monitors with studied seriousness. Rick Yune, who played the bad guy in “Die Another Day,” Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond movie, plays a stock Bond guy here. Anyone who can’t tell Dylan McDermott is in bed with the bad guys on his first close-up needs to get out more. Melissa Leo is all over the place, and in one particularly embarassing scene, shrieks the Pledge of Allegiance while being dragged out to be shot.
But Fuqua, who made his rep on “Training Day,” and also helmed the high-testosterone epics “Tears of the Sun,” “King Arthur” and “Shooter,” also doesn’t do anything especially noteworthy in the action department. There’s plenty of well-executed mayhem, but it’s stock mayhem for the most part. You want one-on-one martial arts fight scenes? The “Bourne” franchise has pretty much set the bar on those, and “Olympus Has Fallen” adds nothing new. There are plenty of gunfights, frankly not as good as those in “Skyfall.” The violence is not excessively gory, but certain graphic enough to justify the movie's R-rating.
On an emotional level, Fuqua is unrepentantly manipulative. Trevor Morris’ score is portentous and heavily orchestrated when we’re supposed to sad or patriotically energized, and thumps and bumps predictably when we’re supposed to be feeling suspense. Conrad W. Hall’s photography is annoying murky during interior night scenes. The quality of the CGI special effects is variable.
“Olympus Has Fallen” does benefit from happy timing. North Korea as a bad guy was a good idea when the movie was made, but the evening news makes it an even better bad guy now. It’s a pity the idea couldn’t have been exploited more effectively. Co-writer Creighton Rothenberger did win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship in 2002.
Not for this.
"Olympus Has Fallen" is now playing at theaters across the Capital District, including the Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland in Schenectady, the Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, the Rotterdam Square Cinema, the Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 and IMAX and the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8.