by Tony Dayoub
One doesn't go into Olympus Has Fallen expecting originality or nuance. As trailers have made pretty clear, this is a noisy, over-the-top potboiler that basically boils down to this description: Die Hard in the White House. However, Antoine Fuqua—whose last solid film was Training Day and displayed the most ambition in 2004's flawed, but not-hard-to-like, King Arthur—seems here to be working out some resentment over not getting a chance to do the long-planned 24 theatrical upgrade he was briefly up for. Or at least it feels that way because Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is as generic a clone of Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer as one has seen in a long time. And as goes our hero, so goes Olympus Has Fallen, a scattered mess of a picture as far as even movies of this kind go.
Cliché after cliché piles up fairly quickly. Banning was once the most trusted agent assigned to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). But after a freak accident kills the First Lady (Ashley Judd, who should thank her agent for finding a role where she gets to cut out early) while under Banning's watch, he is reassigned to desk duty at the Treasury. An attack from a North Korean terrorist (Rick Yune) traps Asher and most of his Cabinet in the protective bunker underneath a White House under siege. Guess who's the only agent that can save the President and the U.S.? The triteness don't stop there. From the colored filters depicting the dawn and dusk of the American Way of Life to the snare-drum loaded score and flag-waving throughout, Olympus Has Fallen feels like the kind of film Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) might have made if he showed up hung over on everyday of production. This short clip is only one brief, heavyhanded instance of many that characterize the kind of movie you can expect:
Wondering why the CGI doesn't quite erase the green-screen lines around the silhouetted actors? Or why the sky looks so pink? Or why the White House looks smaller than what you're used to seeing? Well, Olympus Has Fallen was shot in Shreveport, Louisiana, just one of many cost-cutting measures that nearly sink the film. Most of the time, Fuqua can't seem to decide whether he's shooting an action thriller on the order of Air Force One or a disaster movie. He certainly isn't going for a topical political thriller. Any potential relevance he might have set up with the timely casting of the North Koreans as the film's villains is squandered in 2-3 bad lines tossed off by a traitor aiding the terrorists when he gets his chance to "monologue" in typical baddie fashion. Fuqua surrounds the movie's core players with notable actors—Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell—in thankless roles. To what end? The money spent on this A (or at least B+) level ensemble could have been used to improve the shoddy effects, the element most likely to put butts in seats for this kind of film.
In truth, it isn't even fair to say Olympus Has Fallen is a baaad movie. There are some solid if contrived thrills—like an aerial attack that levels the Washington Monument—that save it from becoming the Showgirls of action films. But that's just it. It's not even horrible enough to enjoy on that level. If Fuqua and his producers would have budgeted for state-of-the-art effects instead of wasting the funds on an underutilized stable of award nominees, we might be characterizing this as an above average B-movie. Instead Olympus Has Fallen is simply a middling mediocrity.
Olympus Has Fallen opens nationwide Friday.