Olympus Has Fallen

© 2013 Ray Wong

So it's not as bad as Transformers 3, but if you're expect something smart and suspenseful like Air Force One, then you'd be sorely disappointed with Olympus Has Fallen.

After making a difficult decision to save President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) during an accident, secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has been demoted to working at the Treasury Department. Mike misses his old job, hates his new one, and has trouble focusing on other aspects of his life such as his marriage.

On a fateful day, a series of events unfold and caught Washington DC in a surprise terrorist attack led by a North Korean fraction leader Kang (Rick Yune). The White House is under siege; the President, VP and top officials are held hostage in a maximum-security bunker under the White House. Springing to action, Mike finds his way back to the White House on a sole mission to save the President and his son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). Well, and to defeat the terrorists, of course.

The terrorists are well organized and manage to wipe out the secret service and keep the military at bay. Their demands not only threaten the stability of the two Koreas but also the way of life in America as the they try to break the highly classified Cerberus Code, which would detonate all the anti-nuclear missiles in the country. Alone on a one-man mission, Mike is racing against time not only to save the President, but also the world.

Despite a few missteps in recent years, Gerard Butler (Movie 43) is in top form in a Die Hard-esque role. Somehow Butler manages to add some layers to the super-human character and make us care about him as a real human being. He is also ruthless, strong and determined when he's called to do the incredible. Butler more than redeem himself as an action hero in this otherwise nonsensical thriller.

Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) tries his best to rise above the material but it's just not enough. His President Asher is generic and weak especially compared to superhero Mike Banning. Finley Jacobsen (Marmaduke) is adorable as Connor but doesn't really have much to do -- at least he is not annoying as most child characters are in thrillers. Rick Yune (The Man With the Iron Fist) is one-note and stereotypical -- I counted, like, three expressions on his face and he constantly reminds me of someone who is suffering from constipation; Mr. Yune should learn how to be a memorable villain by studying Javier Bardem.

Dylan McDermott (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is a caricature of the "good guy turns bad." We never quite understand his motivation or true character, and thus he is just a predictable pawn in the plot and nothing else. Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises) somehow still becomes presidential as Speaker Trumbull, and he could pretty much sleep-walk while playing his role. Angela Bassett (This Means War) used to do great dramatic work, but lately she's been reduced to playing stock "strong female" characters in otherwise male-dominated films. The standout here is Melissa Leo (Flight) who turns in one of the most memorable performances as Secretary of Defense, Ruth McMillan -- now that's a character we'd love to root for, not President Asher.

The screenplay by first-time writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Bendikt shows how green they still are. Truth be told, the story and plot follow every genre trope imaginable, and the problem is that the writers don't let the story breathe. Instead, they pile on everything and then throw even more stuff in the sink. Other than a few moments of quiet reflection, they never give the characters a chance to develop. The motivations are often murky and generic. So, let's replace the bad "Russians" with yet another Communist group -- the North Koreans -- and they are basically regurgitating. The dialogue is mostly serviceable but generic as well.

Granted, there are some genuinely clever moments and plot deviations. I particularly like how Kang's plan slowly unfolds with precision and thoughtfulness, with one misdirection after another. Unfortunately, after such promising plot devices and development, the story turns to predictably absurd, only to set up one obstacle after another to make room for Mr. Banning to play Bruce Willis and save the world while going at it. The once-promising open road suddenly turns into a minefield of plot holes.

Director Antoine Fuqua's (Shooter) bombastic style is both a merit and detriment to the movie. On one hand, he keeps the action and thrills moving at a breakneck pace, rarely slowing down enough for the discerning audience to ponder the huge plot holes. On the other hand, it is exhausting as he leaves no room for the characters or the audience to breathe. It's not just one crisis, but multiple crisis and somehow we are  expected to believe that Mike Banning can singlehandedly fix everything. As the body count cumulates, so is a sense of weariness. The production is handsome enough, and the replicas of the White House and Washington are well done, but the music is something else. The score by Trevor Morris (The Immortals) is equally bombastic and cliched -- by the second scene I am already tired of that overbearing score.

Die Hard at the White House is an apt description of what this movie really is. By and large, the best things about it is Gerard Butler, and that is no small feat considering the stinkers he has been in lately. Still, Mr. Butler alone can't save this bombastic by-the-number thriller, even if we manage to check our brains at the door for two hours of pure thrills -- it is just mind-numbing like bad porn.

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Bendikt
Distributor: FilmDistrict
MPAA Rating:  R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 120 minutes


Script - 6
Performance - 6
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 4
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 6.1 out of 10.0 

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