Movie review: National security shouldn't be a laughing matter

This film image released by FilmDistrict shows Gerard Butler in a scene from "Olympus Has Fallen." (AP Photo/FilmDistrict, Phil Caruso)

“Olympus Has Fallen”


Millenium Films

2 hours

After the most recent installment of the “Die Hard” franchise crashed and burned, action fans everywhere were at a loss. Hollywood has no problem turning out weepy Nicholas Sparks movies by the dozen, and there must have been at least six creepy demon-possessed camcorder families in theaters last month alone. Mediocre kiddie movies? Check. Big budget, high concept fantasy snooze-fests? You got it.

But a good old fashioned, honest-to-god shoot ‘em up? Not nearly as common as they once were. We’re either getting less violent or explosions are becoming more expensive. And if you thought it was hard to find an action flick at the Cineplex, try finding a good one. Quality mayhem is apparently a lost art. Case in point, this week’s presidential pandemonium picture, “Olympus Has Fallen,” wherein North Korean terrorists conduct a hostile takeover of the White House only to find they have to contend with Daniel Day Lewis playing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Well, maybe not — “Olympus” is preposterous, but not quite that preposterous.

Gerard Butler is Mike Banning, secret service agent and presidential buddy who apparently missed the trailer for his own film, and didn’t realize that First Lady Ashley Judd was going to plunge off a bridge to her icy death in the first two minutes of the movie. Too bad, because the President, who has a very low tolerance for that sort of thing, soon after banishes Mike to the Treasury dungeons, where he’s stuck sifting through W-2s and 1040s as punishment.

That is, until a low flying Air Force transport plane suddenly goes rogue, strafing the crowds below and setting off a terrifying planned attack on America’s seat of power. This provides as good a reason as any to leave the office early, and Banning finds himself in a gun battle with dozens of heavily armed masked assailants on the south lawn.

Meanwhile, the President and his staff have holed up in the super-secure bunker below the building. However, in a bit of poor planning, they manage to lock themselves in with the terrorists, rending the whole “super-secure” part of the bunker somewhat moot. Back on the outside, our hero manages to find his way into the White House ahead of the insurgents, leaving Mike Banning as the sole terrorist fighter with the fate of the entire nation in his hands. Good luck, Mike.

At times, “Olympus” feels as though director Antoine Fuqua, best known for the excellent “Training Day,” had perhaps seen the original “Die Hard” one too many times. The movie was incredibly predictable, often because I could remember Bruce Willis in a similar scene from 20 years ago. But “Die Hard,” whether because it was better written or simply because it wasn’t dealing with national security, doesn’t feel nearly as implausible as does “Olympus.”

I realize it’s supposed to be a visceral experience, but plot holes and inconsistencies kept pulling me out of the story. I kept saying to myself, “that wouldn’t happen.” “They wouldn’t do that.” And granted, I hope that’s true. If it would really only take 13 minutes to overtake the White House and kidnap the President of the United States, then we’ve got bigger problems than guns and gay marriage to deal with.

Luckily, I’m pretty sure that’s part of the preposterousness I mentioned before. That said, the attack scene is one of the best sequences in the entire film. It’s a nail-biter, even though you can tell exactly how it’s going to turn out.

Looking at it objectively, “Olympus Has Fallen” isn’t a bad action movie. There’s lots of exciting battles, lots of Gerard Butler taking out the bad guys, lots of angry Aaron Eckhart standing up to the terrorists. On the flip side, there are an inordinate number of people who get stabbed through the top of the skull, which, though grisly, seems like an odd way to choose to dispatch someone, especially considering, as my friend pointed out, that everyone had at least two or three guns hanging off of different parts of their bodies.

The bigger problem, however, is that I found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief. Butler is fine doing his John McClane impression. Eckhart is fine as the president, and Fuqua does a fine job of building a solid actioner — I just didn’t believe it. Not for a second. And that disbelief is what turns above average action melodrama into basic comedy. By the end of the movie, I was laughing, and I doubt very much that was the intention.

Grade: C+

“Olympus Has Fallen” is rated R for bloody violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.