"Olympus Has Fallen" a brutal assault of bland stupidity
After the gigantic success of "Die Hard" in the summer of 1988, Hollywood scrambled to come up with as many knock-offs as possible. There was "Die Hard" on a bus ("Speed"), "Die Hard" on a cruise ship ("Speed 2: Cruise Control"), "Die Hard" on a plane ("Air Force One"), "Die Hard" on a train ("Under Siege 2") and "Die Hard' at a hockey rink ("Sudden Death"). Even the creators of "Die Hard" were guilty, as "Die Hard 2" plays far more like one of these second-rate clones than a real follow-up.
Now, we have "Olympus Has Fallen," a.k.a. "Die Hard" at the White House. Or perhaps a more accurate mock title: "Die Hard" at the White House but suffering from multiple hits to the head with a shovel. Let's be real, though: Being dumb isn't the worst crime for an action movie. Being dull is, and unfortunately, "Olympus Has Fallen" glues itself so rigidly to the "Die Hard" formula that it barely manages to make an impression.
Gerard Butler stars as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent beloved by his wards, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his family (hi Ashley Judd!). Sadly, on a snowy drive out of Camp David, the president's limo crashes and plummets off a bridge, killing the First Lady in the process (bye Ashley Judd!). Despite his efforts to save the First Lady, Banning is removed from the Secret Service and downgraded to a boring desk job at the Treasury.
Banning gets his chance for redemption, though, when a band of Korean terrorists (led by Rick Yune from "Die Another Day") takes over the White House and holds President Asher, the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) and the Vice President for ransom deep within the building's underground bunker. It's up to Banning, the lone American locked inside the enemy-occupied White House (don't ask how he managed that; he just kind of stumbles into it), to save the president while the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) attempts to negotiate with Yune and stop potential nuclear war.
If you like "Die Hard" – and really, who doesn't – you'll probably like "Olympus Has Fallen." That's not the compliment the movie wishes it was. First-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt don't just use the basic premise of Bruce Willis's star-making action franchise. They hit almost all the major points – scampering through walls and vents to hide from evil henchmen, talking strategy with a man on the outside, a close encounter with a featured baddie (Dylan McDermott) who's pretending to act like a good guy and brutal tough guy banter with the villain.
Rothenberger and Benedikt would've been wise to bring some their inspiration's personality as well. Gerard Butler fires off headshots like nobody's business and has some fun with the spicier lines and quips, but for the most part, he's just a standard issue action hero. Yune isn't much of a villain either. The movie clearly wants to have a North Korean bad guy but without actually pointing any fingers, so they handle his origins and motives awkwardly. As a result, he's just another bland terrorist in a nice suit. Everyone else is too noble, idealized or predictable to make much of an impact.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Shooter") does a perfectly adequate job behind the camera. The action is coherently filmed, and he supplies plenty of bloody gunplay and knife fights, but that's about where his ambitions end. Throw in a few fluttering American flags with some trumpets blaring in the background, and call it a day.
Then there's the story. It is really dumb.
For one of the most protected buildings on the planet, the takeover of the White House seems to be fairly easy. The nuclear program used to raise the story's stakes and give it urgency is so absurd that its only purpose could be for a terrorist's evil master plan. McDermott becomes a traitor for no reason other than hating President Asher, and when he never returns from hunting down Banning – despite the fact that he said everything was under control – none of the terrorists ever wonder if something has gone awry.
And there's the mindlessly gung-ho general (Robert Forster) who refuses to trust our all-American everyday hero and leads an idiotic helicopter rescue mission that is guaranteed to fail … and of course does. It's a plot beat that's as predictable as it is frustratingly hackneyed, and it only adds time to a movie that already feels long.
There's probably enough explosions and chaotic bloody mayhem in this headshot extravaganza to satisfy undemanding action fans, and it's a moderately diverting dose of patriotic propaganda – though it is hard to mindlessly giggle through a scene featuring Banning torturing a duo of Korean soldiers when "Zero Dark Thirty" still hangs in the air.
It's a C-grade rendition of a smarter, better movie we've seen many, many times before. But I'll give "Olympus Has Fallen" this: It's a better "Die Hard" than "A Good Day to Die Hard," though that's not exactly a triumphant achievement.
Theaters and showtimes for Olympus Has Fallen
To quote Milhouse on "The Simpsons", (as his school bus is careening wildly out of control), "This is like "Speed 2", only with a bus instead of a boat!!!"
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