MOVIE REVIEW: Olympus Has Fallen


The wild White House terrorism invasion scheme of Olympus Has Fallen is the kind of movie that Independence Day and 2012 director Roland Emmerich would make.  Oh wait.  He did.  It's just not done yet.  Emmerich's similarly-themed White House Down with Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum opens June 28th while Olympus Has Fallen gets the first crack at stealing your money.  If history serves me right, and it usually does on this subject, the last two prominent times there were dueling projects (2012 with double Snow White features Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman and 1998 with the double comet/asteroids of Deep Impact and Armageddon), the second movie made the bigger box office.  Until June gets here, Olympus Has Fallen draws first blood, buckets of it.

Directed by Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay disciple Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, King Arthur), Olympus Has Fallen dials up a spring picnic of R-rated thrills and summer-level action a month before the big summer season really gets things underway.  Drawing upon plenty of better movies (Die Hard, Under SiegeAir Force One) from a generation ago, this film will satiate the macho "man card" redemption needs for all of those married men and boyfriends that got stuck watching Admission recently or were pinned down to see Safe Haven and missed A Good Day to Die Hard.  

Simply put, this a "guy's movie" and an assertive one.  300's Gerard Butler begins his journey of action atonement from making six horribly weak or under-seen movies (Movie 43, Playing for Keeps, Chasing Mavericks, Coriolanus, Machine Gun Preacher, and The Bounty Hunter) since his 2009 one-two fanboy punch of Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen.  Here he plays disgraced former Secret Service agent Mike Banning.  A Camp David family tragedy that went down on his watch of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), his First Lady (Ashley Judd), and their son (Finley Jacobsen) led Mike to be removed from the Secret Service for a desk job at the Treasury Department, a bag of regret issues, and a distant wife (Radha Mitchell).  He misses the front-line excitement and gets to reminisce occasionally with his old Secret Service partners (Cole Hauser and Dylan McDermott) and old boss Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett).

All his issues get pushed aside when the D.C. Mall and the White House come under aerial attack from a rouge and heavily-armed C-130 Hercules, breaking through counter-measures, during a crucial visit of South Korean dignitaries hoping for increased U.S. support against their northern rivals (sound familiar?).  In an absolutely thrilling action sequence (better than anything in G.I. Joe: Retaliation or A Good Day to Die Hard), the attack escalates out of nowhere into a full-on ground offensive on the White House lawn.  Bullets fly and cops, agents, and bystanders alike are diced up by gunfire.

While the President, his staff, the Secretary of Defense (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), and the visiting South Koreans make it to an underground safety bunker deep underneath the White House, the surface team of Secret Service is soundly defeated, but not before Johnny-on-the-spot Mike makes it through the fray and gets into his old stomping grounds.  As it turns out, the South Korean security team had a North Korean terrorist named Kang (Rick Yune) in their ranks and traitorous inside help to take President Asher captive in his own bunker.  Controlling the inside and the outside, Kang puts pressure on the powers-that-be, including the Speaker of the House and acting President Allan Trumbill (Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, naturally), Jacobs and trigger-happy Army General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster) to pull U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula or face nuclear defense shutdown.

Making it behind enemy lines and knowing the White House like the back of his hand (security codes, secret passageways, and all), Mike is perfectly placed to do a little damage, find the President's missing son, and save the day.  That's where the "Die Hard-in-the-White-House" scenarios kick into gear.  Mike confronts the terrorists one-by-one, thinning their ranks and dispatching them in bloody and painful deaths, as the "wild card" acting as Trumbill and company's recon to figuring out how to retrieve the President and stop Kang.  Gee, I wonder who wins.

Olympus Has Fallen is entirely predictable, yet wholly entertaining in bringing the carnage.  It does what it's supposed to do, which is kick ass, and doesn't veer into the usual action movie pitfalls of comedic sidekicks (and endless list from Rob Schneider to Anthony Anderson) or melodramatic forced romance (Speed anyone?).  However, the full menu of action movie cliches is still ordered for dinner.  You get the appetizers of a redemptive hero with something to prove and a President with some convenient extra balls served first.  Next comes the entrees of puffed-up and force-fed patriotism, bad pre-kill one-liners, cocky profanity comebacks, and 24-esque yelled dialogue and technical jargon.  Your dessert cliche is a threatening on-screen doomsday countdown and the final bout fight over the one gun in the room.

We've seen these dishes before, but they've never been served in a place like the White House.  The novelty to throw down these action cliches and pull out all the R-rated stops, without PG-13 softening, in the country's most famous home office earns Olympus Has Fallen style points and a tipped hat.  The ambition to use this setting makes the predictable entertaining.  It will be very interesting to see where Roland Emmerich takes White House Down in June.  

Olympus Has Fallen has certainly stolen some of its buzz by dropping early in spring.  It's got more bite than G.I. Joe: Retaliation and more machismo than the daddy issues of A Good Day to Die Hard.  For at least a few weeks until either Oblivion or Iron Man 3 arrive, Olympus Has Fallen gets to be called the best action movie so far this year.  

LESSON #1: WHETHER IT'S TERRORISM OR COUNTER-TERRORISM, YOU'RE GOING TO NEED A PROFESSIONAL WITH INSIDE KNOW-HOW-- If you're going to invade the White House or take hostage the President of the United States, you're going to need a traitor on the inside who can infiltrate to the highest level.  The same goes for getting the best odds on a rescue mission.  You're going to need a guy who knows the inside.  Former Secret Service agent Mike is the ideal inside man.  How convenient is it that none of the White House security codes (which give Mike surveillance access, weaponry, and the President's own secure cell phone to the Pentagon) have been changed in the 18 months since he left the job?  That sounds a little irresponsible, Secret Service, but I digress.

LESSON #2: THE RULES OF THE GAME CALLED "F - - K OFF"-- Nevermind about digressing.  Gerard Butler and the movie's screenwriters already did that for us when the taunt of the game named "F--k Off' is the best tough-guy comeback line our hero can come up with.  He clearly never picked up on John McClane's Die Hard wit as a younger man.

LESSON #3:  NEVER TRUST THE KOREANS-- Hooray!  In the words of Team America: World Police, "America, f--k yeah!"  You can never have enough swollen fake patriotism of American dominance in the form of cinema!  There's no way the North Koreans will see this film, right?  There's no way they could take this arrogance the wrong way and be pissed enough to paint a bullseye on our country, right?.  Oh wait...

LESSON #4: TOUGH F - - KERS VERSUS TOUGH F - - KERS-- In case you haven't noticed from Lesson #2 or otherwise, folks cuss a lot in this movie.  Mike Banning is a self-proclaimed tough f--ker.  By his words, it's going to take one tough f--ker to beat another tough f--ker.  His wisdom and logic know no bounds.