By KIRBY MCCORD
Modern action movies typically take a ridiculously implausible situation, slap a laconic hero with whom the audience can identify on it (often simply as a regular guy in the wrong place at the wrong time), add a menacing and formidable villain and then stir in over-the-top special effects, explosions and stunts. If done well and paced correctly, a good action movie can entertain audiences in spite of logical failings and script weaknesses. Luckily for viewers, Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” hits almost all the right buttons and achieves this goal.
Mike Banning is a Secret Service Agent assigned to guard the President. But a horrible accident takes the First Lady’s life and Mike is reassigned. Then a sudden, well-organized terrorist attack on the White House threatens not only the President, but the entire nation. Amid copious gunfire and an unsurpassed pyrotechnic display of explosions, Mike steps in and re-assumes his role as protector of the President.
Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”) plays hero Mike Banning in a role similar to Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” (in fact, numerous similarities exist with that movie, including specialized impenetrable doors, specially trained computer hacking terrorists, grisly executions, and an exploding helicopter-on-the-roof rescue mission). Butler is not called to act as much as fight his way through the movie and we’re to root for him partly because the threat is so infernal as to defy sympathy and partly because everyone else in the movie says he’s a great guy and consummate professional.
Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) portrays President Asher as a man burdened with troubles; his dead wife, his motherless son, the lives of his staff all seem to take precedence with a caring man who cannot be expected to make the tough decisions a President must make. It’s a typical Hollywood move, trying to make the President more sympathetic, and although you roll your eyes a few times, it almost works.
The rest of the cast has minor, one dimensional roles. Morgan Freeman (“The Dark Knight Rises”) is Speaker of the House Trumbull whose voice resonates with dignity; Angela Bassett (“Green Lantern”) is Mike’s boss, whose role it is to basically vouch for the hero. Dylan McDermott (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) portrays Mike’s Secret Service colleague Forbes, who shows why Secret Service agents should not get involved in politics. Rick Yune (“The Man with the Iron Fists”) sneers unconvincingly as the villain Kang. Radha Mitchell (“Finding Neverland”) is Mike’s wife Leah, whose role exists basically to show he is loved. Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”) is terrific as the feisty but forlorn Secretary of Defense.
But this is a director’s movie. Antoine Fuqua (“Shooter”) uses every director’s trick imaginable to make this movie work. Staccato editing builds suspense. Multiple camera angles give a clear understanding of what is transpiring from several perspectives. Lush cinematography leaps off the screen with clear lines and vibrant colors. Computer graphics are used wisely and well, enhancing, not dominating the film. The original attack scene in which a plane swoops over the White House, using chaff to deflect surface to air missiles and tracer-lit machine gun fire to take out the guards, accompanied by a ground assault is terrific. Okay, it’s completely unrealistic with everything far too compact and far too close, with suicidal tactics used by both sides — but it is terrifically exciting; this is a fantastic sequence that is executed flawlessly and enthralls the audience.
“Olympus Has Fallen” will win no Oscars. Numerous holes exist in the plot. But, due to Antoine Fuqua’s directorial expertise, it is an exciting movie well worth watching.