* (out of four)
“It’s like ‘Die Hard’ but at the White House,” a studio executive probably said about “Olympus Has Fallen,” whose title refers to a breach of security in the White House. “What could go wrong?”
Lots. Lots can go wrong. After all, a cliche is a cliche no matter the clearance level, and the dimwitted political action flick “Olympus” embraces practically all of ’em—topped with a triple dose of rah-rah American fear-mongering.
Of course disregarded Secret Service officer John McClane—I mean Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)—gets a chance at redemption when North Korean terrorists (led by Rick Yune of “The Man with the Iron Fists”) take control of the White House and hold the president (Aaron Eckhart) hostage. And of course this lone, rogue hero represents the only source of wise decisions as the situation grows more dire.
What about the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman), who becomes acting president while the big man and his VP (Phil Austin) are unable to perform? Nope, the guy with the gun and zingers like “Why don't you and I play a game of [bleep] off? You go first” reigns supreme.
Director Anton Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Shooter”) blows stuff up real good, and the initial invasion effectively and shamelessly capitalizes on the terror of seeing an enemy plane flying low over U.S. soil. (It comes off as far more extreme and unlikely than “Red Dawn.”) Yet “Olympus Has Fallen,” which precedes this summer's seemingly identical “White House Down” starring Channing Tatum, desensitizes whenever possible, killing primarily faceless extras and racking up the bloodshed while minimizing the specific horror. There's never a doubt about the important players and who will or won't make it out alive. It’s also no surprise that the film relies on the acquisition of launch codes and a child in danger for dramatic impact.
Side note: Unlike “Zero Dark Thirty,” which showed that “advanced interrogation techniques” involving torture don't lead to useful information, “Olympus” suggests otherwise. It also simplifies international conflicts into a case of “They resent our way of life” and asserts ineffectiveness in numerous lines of American defense, solely so Mike can come to the rescue.
Where are all the elected officials complaining about that? Oh, right. The movie ends with a shot of a proudly waving flag, so everyone goes home happy.
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