Of all of this year’s movies in which a lone hero is tasked with saving the president when a violent paramilitary group seizes the White House, “Olympus Has Fallen” is certainly one of them.
Getting out in front of the very similar “White House Down,” the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx actioner set to hit theaters June 28, is the best thing that could have happened to this exercise in excess. (Unofficial motto: Why kill someone with two or three bullets when you can kill them with a dozen?)
Because once you get past the novelty of seeing guerrilla warfare erupt on the White House lawn, “Olympus” rings nearly as hollow as most everything else that comes out of Washington.
As the head of President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) Secret Service detail, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is practically an honorary member of the first family. When he isn’t boxing with the prez at Camp David, he’s quizzing Asher’s young son (Finley Jacobsen) on emergency protocols.
Then Banning is unfairly blamed for a terrible accident and spends the next 18 months riding a desk at the Treasury Department, longing for a way back in.
His chance finally comes when North Korean terrorists launch an absurdly ambitious, multipronged attack involving suicide bombers, heavy artillery, precision commandos and a stolen Air Force plane that strafes the sidewalks and decimates the White House’s tactical teams. The whole thing is over — with the bad guys zip-tying the president, the veep and his top advisers in an impenetrable bunker 120 feet below ground — in 13 minutes.
As outlandish as all that may sound, it’s still more plausible than anything the North Koreans pulled off in last year’s “Red Dawn” remake.
And just think how much more work Dennis Rodman will have to put in once his pal Kim Jong Un gets wind of this.
Banning sees the carnage unfold from his desk, with its million-dollar view of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and rushes into harm’s way. Somehow, while the entirety of the White House security forces is being Swiss-cheesed, he’s able to make it inside the building, unscathed, before the bad guys seal it off. From there, Banning has to find a way to John McClane his way out.
The problem is, while McClane was clearly out of his depth and on unfamiliar ground in Nakatomi Plaza, Banning has better training and an intimate knowledge of the building’s secrets. If you’re going to make “ ‘Die Hard’ in the White House,” you need a hero with at least a few vulnerabilities. And some better one-liners.
“Olympus” is the kind of movie where, once the villain’s (Rick Yune) ultimate plan is revealed, an instantaneous, real-time graphic simulates the devastation, even though the nation’s top military minds apparently never considered such an event a possibility. That’s just sloppy. (So is a typo I swear I saw in one of the onscreen headlines.)
And after taking time to establish President Asher’s boxing skills, not to mention his seething, upper-crust machismo, “Olympus” denies the formidable Eckhart his chance to go all “Air Force One.”
He’s part of a supporting cast — including Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo, as well as Oscar nominee Robert Forster — that’s littered with talent. But a great cast doesn’t always translate into a great movie. For proof, see Butler’s work in “Movie 43.” You’d be among the first.
The bulk of “Olympus” falls squarely on Butler’s broad shoulders. As great as it is to see the undervalued Scot playing to his action-movie strengths and not mired in yet another romantic comedy, try as they might, the filmmakers aren’t able to give his Banning much in the way of personality.
That’s yet another reason why, after the perversely thrilling takeover scenes, “Olympus Has Fallen” feels like a missed opportunity.
Fear not, though. There’s always a chance Tatum and the rest of the “White House Down” gang will get it right.
Or at least right-er.
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Christopher Lawrence is the film critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org