Red meat for the red state-minded—and something of an embarassment for the rest of us—Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is awash in flag-waving clichés, silly symbolism, dodgy CGI and the (presumably unintentional) irony of a Scottish actor portraying our unstoppable American hero. (Perhaps someone thought it would be nice to have a Brit make up for that little episode with the White House during the War of 1812.) Along with Gerard “Where is that career I sort of had once?” Butler, an array of respectable name actors who ought to have known better signed on for this — and, unfortunately for them, this isn’t the kind of bad movie that almost no one will see. The luckiest of them is probably Ashley Judd, who had the good sense to take the role that got her out of the movie in the first 10 minutes. In a movie like this, plunging to your death as soon as possible is in your favor. When Melissa Leo saw her character being dragged around by terrorists later in the film while she gave them what-for by screaming the Pledge of Allegiance, she probably wished she’d gone off a bridge in the first few moments, too.
The pitch for this nonsense is that North Korean terrorists (not, mind you, representing the actual, sufficiently crazy North Korean government) attack Washington with a preposterous cargo plane (enough firepower onboard, we’re told, to take down our best jets) that cruises into town shooting things up before they’re shot down — taking off the top of the Washington Monument in the process. (Yes, we lost our manhood.) In the confusion and further ground-based carnage, it’s decided to dispatch the president (Aaron Eckhart), the vice president (TV actor Phil Austin), the secretary of defense (Ms. Leo) and an assortment of visiting South Korean delegates to the underground bunker deep beneath the White House. Who could guess that one of the delegates is Kang (Rick Yune, The Man with the Iron Fists), a legendary terrorist, and another is an American traitor? (We aren’t supposed to know who this is, but the casting gives it away.) And, all the while, nasty foreigners are laying waste to the White House — even tearing down the now-tattered flag and throwing it off the roof so that it can flutter down in slow-motion CGI.
Ah, but the terrorists didn’t count on semi-disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) being around. He’d been involved when the first lady plunged to her death, and even though he wasn’t at fault, the president had him moved to a different department so his presence wouldn’t be a reminder of the accident. So Banning not only wants to save America, but to square himself with the commander in chief. (I’d call him an overachiever.) Proving that he — like first-time-offender screenwriters Creighton Rothenbergh and Katrin Benedikt — has seen Die Hard, Banning steps right into the mess and tackles those pesky bad guys single-handedly with the blessing of the acting president (Morgan Freeman) and the head of the Secret Service (Angela Bassett) who, of course, already knows Banning’s worth. And unbelievable — if not unpredictable — as it may seem, her faith is well-placed. Soon he’s blasted, bludgeoned and beaten his way through scads of evildoers — stopping to torture a pair of them (for supposed “comic” effect) in order to gain information. At one point (just in case the earlier symbolism was too subtle), he beats one to death with a bronze bust of Lincoln.
Distasteful as the film is with its wholesale slaughter and mean-spirited tone, Olympus Has Fallen would just be a dumb bad action picture with cardboard characters, lousy dialogue and below-par special effects, but it’s hard not to think that too many people will take its bargain basement jingoism and posturing too seriously. That strikes me as more disturbing than anything actually in the movie. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande