By Van Roberts
You know a movie star has a stake in a production when he is listed as one of the producers. Indeed, Gerard Butler served as one of four producers on the slam-bang, high-octane, but formulaic President-in-jeopardy thriller “Olympus Has Fallen” (**** OUT OF ****), featuring Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Aaron Eckhart, and Rick Yune. “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua and freshman scenarists Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt must have put their heads together and scrutinized the “Die Hard” movies, “Air Force One,” and “In the Line of Fire.” They’ve reconstituted the conventions of those classics as efficiently as the corpses pile up in this edge-of-the- seat nail-biter where nary a second of its two-hour running time is squandered. Furthermore, they’ve followed the lead of not only “Team America: World Police” but also the recent “Red Dawn” remake and cast the North Koreans as the villains. The audacious aerial attack on Washington, D.C., is worth the price of admission alone. When he isn’t generating suspense and tension, Fuqua shows no qualms about depicting torture either by the villains or the hero. Subsequently, squeamish moviegoers should probably shun this violent melodrama. Our sympathetic but indestructible hero displays about as much compassion for the treacherous villains as they show for the scores of innocent bystanders that perish from barrages of bullets and high explosives that riddle this rambunctious R-rated actioneer. This is the kind of movie where the audience talks back to the screen. At least, several people were talking back to the screen when I saw it. Surprisingly, Fuqua and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall (son of Oscar winner Conrad L. Hall) lensed most of the White House scenes on location in Louisiana rather than in the nation’s capital. Mind you, we’ll have to bide our time until late June when “Independence Day” helmer Roland Emmerich’s similarly themed saga “White House Down,” co-starring Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, unspools to know which of these white-knuckled, geopolitical, hostage epics will take top honors.
“Olympus Has Fallen” opens at Camp David. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart of “The Dark Knight”), First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd of “Heat”), and their young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen of “Marmaduke”) are cruising along slippery, snow-swept roads at night with a Secret Service escort when chaos occurs. The President’s limo goes into a spin and crashes through the railing of a bridge over an icy river. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler of “300”) and his cohorts struggle futilely to stabilize the limo as it teeters precipitously off the bridge. Meanwhile, President Asher tries to help his wife who has been injured during the accident. Banning slashes the President’s seatbelt and pulls him out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the shifting weight plunges the car with an unconscious Margaret inside into the river. The memory of the accident and Banning’s valiant efforts to save his life at the expense of his wife prompts President Asher to have Banning transferred to a desk job at the Treasury. Banning cannot stand his new sedentary position despite assurances from his superior, Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett of “Notorious”) that he did the right thing.
During a visit from the South Korean ambassador to the White House, terrorists strike from the air with a cargo plane equipped with mini-Vulcan machine guns that blow U.S. fighter jets out of the air. The cargo plane strafes the White House and anybody in the surrounding area, killing tourists and law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Asian gunmen with automatic weapons storm the White House, killing anybody who gets in their way, while the Secret Service herds Asher and his guests to a bomb-proof bunker beneath the White House. No sooner has the Secret Service gotten the President to safety than traitors in the South Korean delegation start blasting away. The terrorists take Asher, his Vice President, and other essential members of his cabinet as hostages and demand that the U.S. withdraw the Seventh Fleet as well as pull our troops from the DMZ between North and South Korea. Nobody knows who the identity of the terrorists, but two minutes later when the American military arrive, they find themselves in a stand-off. The leader of the villains, Kang (Rick Yung of “Die Another Day”), has some other tricks up his sleeve. Worse, a treasonous Secret Serv aice agent, Forbes (Dylan McDermott of “In the Line of Fire”), has helped orchestrate the takeover.
During this surprise attack, Banning manages to survive, but he is the only survivor. He learns from the acting President, Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman of “Unforgiven”), that the terrorists haven’t taken Connor as a hostage. Banning sets out to find Connor while avoiding detection from the terrorists who are busy fortifying the White House from intruders. Banning is clearly modeled on Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” hero John McClane, and he dispense methodically with the terrorists while he searches for Connor. Meantime, Kang wants the codes to our nuclear arsenal and he doesn’t mind shedding a lot of blood to get want he wants. When he isn’t trying to outfox the terrorists, Banning has to prove to Speaker Trumbull that he is America’s last line of defense. Pentagon General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster of “Jackie Brown”) argues with our hero every step of the way and demands that he stand down so that the Navy Seals can chopper in and take out the terrorists. What Clegg doesn’t know is that the wicked Kang has planned for virtually every contingency.
“Olympus Has Fallen” qualifies as Gerard Butler’s best movie since “Law Abiding Citizen” (2009), and Fuqua’s film takes full advantage of a talented, top-notch cast, particularly Morgan Freeman. In a smaller role as an egotistical Pentagon general, Robert Forster stands out, while Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Ashley Judd make the most of their peripheral roles. You can bet that America’s worst enemies will enjoy the set-up in “Olympus Has Fallen” more than they will the payoff.