At any given time, it’s never hard to find someone who thinks Washington is in ruins and a dangerous extremist is running the White House.
In “Olympus Has Fallen,” which takes that line of thinking quite literally, a group of North Korean terrorists storms the world’s most fortified residence, kills off the Secret Service staff, holds the president hostage, and prepares to bring the United States to its knees.
Only one man stands in the way of their cold-hearted leader and his evil plan: Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a former Secret Service agent now droning away at a desk job after a tragic incident 18 months ago resulted in his dismissal from the White House detail.
If it sounds like something you’ve seen before, only in a new setting, in a new situation, with a new star … well, that’s because you HAVE seen it before: in “Die Hard,” its sequels, and countless other slam-bang, gung-ho, yippee-ki-yay action yarns that followed in its invincible lone-hero footsteps over the past 25 years.
How Butler’s character, armed with only a handgun and a set of handcuffs, manages to get back inside the White House to BECOME the only thing between America and terrorist Armageddon is but one of the movie’s leaps of logic, of which there are many. But people who enjoy movies like this are willing to forgive leaps of logic, I suspect, as long as enough bad guys get stabbed in the head, have their necks snapped with a loud pop, and get plenty of red, white and blue revenge along with some snappy, profanity-peppered wisecracks.
The all-star cast features Aaron Eckhart as the president, who spends most of the movie trussed up, scowling and seething; Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House, stepping into Chief of State duties over at the Pentagon once both the prez and his tough-cookie VP (Melissa Leo) have been shanghaied; Dylan McDermott as a Secret Service agent with more than one secret; and Angela Bassett as the Secret Service director. Newcomer Finley Jacobson plays the president’s young son, an underdeveloped role that seems to be begging for a bigger slice of the plot.
Ashley Judd gets even less screen time as the president’s wife, but her brief part in the beginning sets up everything else that follows.
There’s a traitorous turncoat, a garbage truck that becomes a weapon of mass destruction, and an Oscar-winning actress reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as she’s dragged kicking and screaming down a hall. Characters spout cheesy, overly dramatic lines like “We’ve just opened up the gates of hell,” “I’m the best hope you’ve got,” and “Now, too, America will know suffering and famine.”
The movie does a believable job of recreating the look of the interiors and exteriors of the White House, especially as all kinds of mayhem breaks out in its normally dignified hallways underneath the stately, immutable gazes of presidential portraits of Truman, Kennedy, Nixon and other previous occupants.
The explosive, wall-to-wall action is stoked is by incendiary images of hallowed icons of liberty being desiccated or destroyed — an American flag strafed with gunfire and left in tatters, the upper third of the Washington Monument sliced off by an enemy airplane, the White House violated from within and without.
But for a story set at ground zero of America’s most politicized city, “Olympus Has Fallen” doesn’t really seem to make a political stand of its own — except, perhaps, in a scene when Butler’s character is fighting one of the terrorists and uses a bust of Abraham Lincoln to finish him off, crushing his wounded opponent’s skull with the sculpted, stoic noggin of the Great Emancipator.
The delicate dance of diplomacy, it seems to suggest, will only get you so far — and in this big, boomy, flag-waving bash of lug-headed escapism, it won’t get you anywhere at all.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Olympus Has Fallen”
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart
DIRECTED BY: Antoine Fuqua
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes