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Review: ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Die Hard At The White House

Above: Aaron Eckhart plays a U.S. president who gets held hostage in "Olympus Has Fallen."

"Olympus Has Fallen" (opened March 22 throughout San Diego) serves up "Die Hard" at the White House but without the sense of fun.

Actor Gerard Butler takes to producing again after finding success with “Law Abiding Citizen” and box office disappointment with “Machine Gun Preacher.” With “Olympus Has Fallen” he seems in tune with the type of film his audience wants and he spruces up the film with some quality actors (Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo) to lend a certain air of respectability to the project.

“Olympus Has Fallen” really does take the “Die Hard” formula and refashion it just enough to not get sued for plagiarism. The simpleminded script has been penned by a pair of newbies -- Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt – who have no other credits but this.

So here’s how the story breaks down… Instead of a lone New York policeman working strictly on his own and trying to save a group of hostages held by terrorists in a skyscraper, we have a lone ex-Secret Service agent trying to save a group of hostages held by terrorists in a bunker at the White House. So you can read the story like this: Gerard Butler is the Bruce Willis character who keeps trying to tell the idiot big shots on the outside what’s going down but no one will listen to him. Both have a supporter on the outside – in “Die Hard” it was the black patrol officer played by Reginald VelJohnson and in “Olympus” it is Angela Bassett’s Secret Service Director – and both have to deal with people in charge – Paul Gleeson’s deputy police chief in “Die Hard” and in “Olympus” it’s both Robert Forster’s General and Morgan Freeman’s acting president. And of course you have foreign terrorists in both, Rick Yune as a North Korean advocating for his country (“Olympus”) and Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber advocating solely for himself (“Die Hard”). There’s even a scene involving broken glass and bare feet.

So the formula is identical, details are different, but the tone is far less fun in “Olympus.” Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “Olympus” smirks occasionally but deep down takes its action with a straight face. That would be fine except that the story is as silly as “Die Hard” and even more implausible. The film would be over in 5 minutes if everyone just stuck to the notion: “The U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists.” Period. So why do people keep giving the terrorists what they want and ridiculous things too. I mean any president should be willing to lay down his life to save his country, right?

Credit: Film District

Rick Yune stars as a North Korean terrorist who wants to bring the United States to its knees in "Olympus Has Fallen."

Despite its utter ridiculousness, the audience ate up the film’s mix of gun-loving American individualism and patriotic flag waving. And it did blow up a lot of sh-t along the way. The death toll is excessively high but the CGI bloodletting kind of makes it all look fake and nothing to be really concerned about.

Morgan Freeman has played God, Mandela, and Batman’s right hand man but for some reason he proves to be rather inept as acting president of the United States. Butler’s Mike Banning has to keep telling him off. Of course he’s not as dumb as Forster’s old school general. Aaron Eckhart seems to have moved effortlessly from the square-jawed soldier in “Battle Los Angeles” to the square-jawed president in “Olympus.” Granted he’s the sexiest president since JFK occupied the White House but he has zero leadership skills.

For once the women come out well. Bassett is solid as the Secret Service Director – smart, humane, reasonable. And Melissa Leo displays toughness as the Secretary of Defense. Both actresses deliver strong performances despite the silliness surrounding them.

The film displays an odd sense of politics. The North Korean terrorists are more efficient than those Navy SEALS in "Zero Dark Thirty." No one in the U.S. government seems prepared for the attack. And then the terrorists' goals and motives seem a strange mix and ultimately seem tinged by just a sense of justice. But the script is such a mishmash that it's hard to tell.

“Olympus Has Fallen” (rated R for strong violence and language throughout) showcases Butler in an effective manner and serves up a big noisy summer actioner in March. It’s not a good film but then it really doesn’t aspire to be a good film, it just wants to be a crowd pleaser that makes money. I doubt it has more on its mind than that.

And here's a handy guide for you:

Separated at birth: "Die Hard" and "Olympus Has Fallen."

Companion viewing: “Die Hard,” “Training Day” (when Fuqua was good), “In the Company of Men” (Eckhart playing a nasty sonuvabitch)

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