By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mini-trend alert: Olympus Has Fallen, the first of this year’s two Executive Mansion Under Attack thrillers, is here.
Let’s hope it’s the lesser of the two.
The second, White House Down, touches down this summer, with Secret Service agent Channing Tatum trying to protect U.S. Prez Jamie Foxx.
Olympus Has Fallen falls foreword first, getting a three-month head start, with Secret Service agent Gerard Butler trying to protect U.S. Prez Aaron Eckhart.
Butler plays Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Detail assigned to protect U. S. President Benjamin Asher, played by Eckhart.
But following a tragic accident, Banning is demoted and assigned to desk duty at the Treasure Department.
When a North Korean terrorist group takes the President hostage, Banning finds himself trapped in the White House, the Secret Service code name for which is Olympus.
When the national security team snaps into action, hoping to avoid a global nuclear war, they must rely on Banning’s literal inside knowledge.
The supporting cast, boasting its share of Oscar winners and nominees, includes Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service, Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, Robert Forster as a high-ranking general, Ashley Judd as the First Lady, Rick Yune as the Terrorist in Chief, and Dylan McDermott as an ex-Secret Service agent now working in the private sector.
That’s quite a cast that director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Brooklyn’s Finest) gets very little out of. Instead, he’s so enamored of gun battles and incendiary explosions, everything else in this subtlety-free melodrama is treated like so much narrative filler. So the acting doesn’t much matter anyway.
And even though Gerard Butler, one of the film’s producers, is actually well cast for a change, Fuqua allows plenty of shallow, surprisingly stilted acting by usually reliable veterans like Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman.
Now no one expects an action thriller to investigate political issues or explore relationships involving nuanced, three-dimensional characters. But you get the feeling that everything on display here is merely an excuse for Fuqua to start shooting characters in the head from close range and blowing things up. It’s literal overkill.
The screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt nods in the direction of Die Hard and Air Force One, but doesn’t match their story values or blend of action and drama. And what Fuqua does is wave a patriotic flag a few times, but merely dwell on the least interesting aspects of the narrative: the carnage.
Because of the formula Fuqua halfheartedly applies, the film will undoubtedly be described as Die Hard in the White House. Truth be told, however, it and the original Die Hard shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.
So we’ll rescue 2 stars out of 4 for an R-rated terrorism thriller with little other than mindless action and a distinct lack of gravitas. Olympus Has Fallen and it can’t get up.