"Olympus Has Fallen" features fast-paced action, expletives galore, an overly dramatic musical score, and the requisite flag-waving. This is what "A Good Day to Die Hard" should have been.
The first of two films this year about the White House being compromised, "Olympus Has Fallen" opens with a tragedy that leads to Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), who has the plum gig of protecting the president's family, being demoted to a desk jockey. For many, perhaps the biggest take-away from the movie is that the Secret Service is part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Don't underestimate those Treasury desk jockeys!
Eighteen months later, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is meeting with the South Korean Foreign Minister Lee Tae-Woo (Keong Sim) when the invasion begins. It all happens at a breakneck pace — a C-130 flies in restricted airspace and shoots down F-15s, sleeper agents who were posing as tourists start bombing and shooting, and the mounted machine guns come out — and when the army finally rolls in 15 minutes later, you realize that you've been holding your breath. (Homefront, anyone?)
Once the C-130 proves to be hostile, the president's security detail rushes into his meeting and escorts him -- and everyone he's meeting with, including the vice president, secretary of defense and the South Korean delegation -- to the bunker under the White House. Of course, some of the South Korean representatives turn out to be North Korean sympathizers who wish to destroy America. Since the president and vice president are being held hostage, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) becomes the acting president. As the Secret Service has been decimated by this surprise attack, the rest of the film features Banning trying to take down the foes and rescue President Asher.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Replacement Killers") does a great job of ensuring that the action is swift and visceral, fittingly conveying the urgency of the situation. The pacing is tight and the film is well edited, so you're fully engaged for the duration of the movie. There are so many headshots that you could make a drinking game out of it, and the realistic special effects are quite amazing when you consider that they're done with CGI.
The plot sounds quite ludicrous on paper, but the cast of seasoned actors really helps to sell the story while you're in the movie theater. Now, if the movie situation were real, Freeman could talk down any and all terrorists by reading anything in his soothing voice. Angela Bassett plays Lynne Jacobs, the head of the Secret Service, but this film isn't a very good vehicle for Freeman and Bassett's collective acting abilities. They're not given much to do besides staring at television monitors and looking frazzled. I didn't think he could pull it off, but Eckhart manages to look presidential enough, and he imbues President Asher with so much integrity that a few members of the audience may have wondered where to cast their votes.
This is Butler's best movie since "300," most likely because he helped to produce the film. He's pretty convincing as Banning, and when you see his determination to take down the infiltrators, you can almost see the ex-Special Forces soldier in the gleam of his eye. The Scot's American accent is passable most of the time, but occasionally, it sounds very forced and contrived and is accompanied by Sylvester Stallone-esque lip contortions.
The musical score is the weakest part of the film. From the opening sequence, the soundtrack is very noticeable -- but not in a good way. It's expected from movies of this ilk, but you're constantly bombarded with overly dramatic music that tries to bring feelings of patriotism to the surface so they can bubble over in tears. (Weeping lady who sat to my left at the movie screening, I'm looking at you.) If the "Star-Spangled Banner" had suddenly started playing, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised.
Although "Olympus Has Fallen" was filmed last year, the plot is surprisingly timely given the recent sabre-rattling. This won't win any hoity-toity cerebral awards, but it's a well-paced and well-acted action film with lots of explosions and headshots. What more could you want? Spring may have just arrived, but summer has already begun at the box office.
"Olympus Has Fallen" is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours. It is showing in 2-D.
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