Thursday, April 4, 2013

Whitehouse Down



OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN


In the vein of Hollywood mindthink, we have yet ANOTHER example of two movies with a similar plot being released close to each other.  We've had TWO 'meteor is about to destroy Earth so we have to send astronauts to stop it' movies released near each other (Deep Impact and Armageddon).  We've had TWO 'volcanoes come out in Los Angeles' movies (Dante's Peak and...Volcano).   Last year or two, we had TWO 'we're friends but are going to have casual sex without romantic entanglements but end up falling in love' movies (No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits).  We also had TWO Snow White-based films: the cutesy take (Mirror Mirror) and the 'gritty' take (Snow White and the Huntsman). 

And WHO says Hollywood is out of ideas?

Now we have the "White House in under siege and only one man can stop it' movies.  While we eagerly await White House Down, let us turn to Olympus Has Fallen, which beat it by at least three months.   As a film, Olympus Has Fallen is goofy but entertaining, a trifle despite the grand violence we're treated to.  It also doesn't stray far from a formula: the wounded warrior in need of redemption finds his cause, so I can't say it was terrible.  However, I don't think it is memorable either.

Secret Service Agent and former Army Ranger Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a haunted man.  Once close to his boss, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and the First Son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), Banning is still mourning his failure to protect the First Family.  During a heavy snowstorm en route from Camp David to the White House, the motorcade suffered a car accident on a bridge.  Banning was able to rescue the President, but a badly injured First Lady (Ashley Judd) plunged into the river when the car fell.  Eighteen months later, the widowed President carries on, but Banning has banished  himself to the Treasury Department. 

His fellow Secret Service Agent Dave Forbes (Dylan McDermott) has retired from government work, but now returns to the White House as part of a security detail for the South Korean Prime Minister.  However, there is treachery afoot: an airplane is headed towards the White House, and soon, chaos erupts in the streets of the capital.  A massive North Korean fifth column has burst into the White House, slaughtering agents and Army left right center.  Through the carnage, only Agent Banning is able to shoot back and enter the besieged Presidential residence.  The President, Vice President Charlie Rodriguez (Phil Austin), Defense Secretary Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo), and others are taken prisoner inside the protective bunker when the South Korean entourage (except for the poor Prime Minister) turns out to be North Korean agents...including Forbes.  The ringmaster...leader, of this nefarious takeover is Kang (Rick Yune), a rogue terrorist who wants the U.S. troops out of Korea (partly for personal reasons as his family was somehow a victim of the Demilitarized Zone).

Now with Banning inside the White House unbeknown to Kang and Forbes, he is the only person who can return the President to safety.  Meanwhile, Secret Service head Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) must help coordinate Banning's actions while attempting to stop Kang from acquiring a code from three sources (all of them his hostages) that will bring a nuclear holocaust on America (his true aim).  Banning must also rescue not just the hostages, but Connor, who is somewhere hidden in the White House.


Honestly, I don't know why so many people appear willing and eager to trash Olympus Has Fallen.  This is the type of film one watches for lots of violence, lots of action, and little in terms of logic.  Take for example the confrontation between Banning and Forbes.  We all know Forbes is the bad guy, and we also know that when he 'finds' Banning eventually the good guy will be able to figure out (usually through a slip of the tongue) that Forbes is with the enemy.  However, as Forbes is dying (after all, we know he's not going to get out alive), he suddenly reverses course and gives Kang false information.  This sudden turnaround in his nature is almost unbelievable (why would someone who joins the North Koreans for the vaguest of reasons then suddenly turn patriotic at the end). 

Oh but in a film like Olympus Has Fallen, we pretty much have to throw logic out the window.   Yes, I'll say that Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt's screenplay has some pretty set pieces (the long warrior fighting an army when the regular army and Secret Service detail proves shockingly inept, said lone warrior finding in this mission a sense of redemption for failing the first time, even the terrorist has a wounded past as some sort of motivation), but in fairness, Olympus Has Fallen takes all this very seriously. 

Bless the cast for playing all this seriously.  Truth be told, I have great admiration for Aaron Eckhart, an actor who just ought to work more.  Given how good he was in Battle: L.A. (a film I enjoyed), I think Eckhart could easily have switched roles with Butler and played the lone warrior convincingly.  Whether anyone would have bought Butler as the Commander-in-Chief is highly doubtful (especially if his Scottish brogue slipped out), but on the whole, Butler does his best Bruce Willis in Die Hard impression (right down to the quips).

In smaller roles, both Bassett and Freeman (obviously demoted from President to mere Speaker of the House) did solid work, which they almost always do even when doing Bartha roles as these clearly are.  They play things seriously, and for that I cannot fault them.  Same goes for McDermott, although I sensed he knew this was all a waste of his time.  I almost feel for Yune, an actor who always plays the bad guy.  Would be nice to see him try something new...

Antoine Fuqua manages to keep things going briskly, never pausing long for things to get bogged down.  It's a credit to him that the more ludicrous the situations or actions (such as Banning being able to not only escape a hail of bullets when the terrorists are shooting at him through a wall but him being able to shoot THEM down through said wall while firing without looking) it all manages to appear almost rational.

One thing that can be said for Olympus Has Fallen: we have now officially left a 9/11 mindset.  The audience either doesn't connect or think about just how horrifying the images we get are: you have a plane heading towards the White House, you have people in Washington, D.C. running for their lives, you even have the Washington Monument collapsing onto itself and tourists dumb enough to be there in the middle of the chaos.  Maybe I was the only one still trepidatious about such sights, but no one in front of or behind the camera, or the audience for that matter, took any of that in mind.  It was just a good action scene, not something reminiscent of a horrifying event that still shapes the world today.

Another aspect is in how Banning doesn't shrink from torturing two North Koreans he holds prisoner for information.  Whoever said torture, real torture (such as stabbing someone in the leg and cutting his throat) would not give results?

However, the flaws in Olympus Has Fallen are pretty evident: the effects are television-level, and at one point the headline in a faux-report is "Terrorist Attack Whitehouse", failing to note two grammatical errors.  Then again, it IS MSNBC...

As I see it, Olympus Has Fallen is not to be taken seriously (which the movie certainly does).  It has a little too much torture and gore for my tastes, and certain subplots that seem not only clich├ęd but a waste of time (Banning's nurse wife tending to the wounded...another 9/11 flashback...and the Connor story: once he's rescued we can get on to the main action of taking down North Koreans and kicking some ass).  However, for what it is, Olympus Has Fallen certainly has some entertainment value, nothing more.



We all know this is fiction: Olympus Has Fallen as a whole and the idea that Lawrence O'Donnell is a real journalist.  Therefore, while Olympus Has Fallen isn't the best film around, it has enough to make it worth a couple of hours of free time if nothing else is on.   Don't know if I'd say the same about The Last Word...    

DECISION: C+

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