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‘Angel Has Fallen’ and shouldn’t get up

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“Who ARE all these people?”

That was what I muttered to myself as I entered the first screening of “Angel Has Fallen” at my local cinema. It was just after 1 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon in late summer, the sort of stretch for which people bail on work to go for a hike or to the beach or something, but … this? The third movie in an increasingly-ludicrous series in which talking mayonnaise wad Gerard Butler has to save the day despite overwhelming odds against him? This is how you’re going to spend your day? Me, I have to be here – what’s your excuse?

Who ARE all these people?

Whoever they are, they got to see a movie that, while far from good, did manage to at least improve upon its execrable (and kind of racist) “London Has Fallen,” the follow-up to “Olympus Has Fallen,” best known as the “Deep Impact” to the “Armageddon” of the Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx team-up “White House Down.”

“Angel Has Fallen” is happy to lean into the assorted tropes and clichés of the genre, featuring a convoluted narrative packed with inexplicable decision-making, totally telegraphed betrayals and meaningless technobabble jargon to go along with loads of grim grimaces and steely glares. It’s not good – never good – but it’s better. A low bar, but there you have it.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, “Hunter Killer”) is still a top-level Secret Service agent assigned to the President’s protection detail. President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, “The Poison Rose”) trusts Mike implicitly and is even considering him to assume the position of Director of the Secret Service following the impending retirement of current head honcho Gentry (Lance Reddick, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”).

Mike’s got some folks in his life who’d like to see him consider the new gig. His wife Leah (Piper Perabo, TV’s “Turn Up Charlie”) likes the idea of Mike behind a desk. His old military buddy Wade (Danny Huston, “IO”) likes the idea of being pals with someone who has the President’s ear. Everyone seems to think he’d be a good fit.

But Mike has doubts – especially since he’s struggling with the physical and psychological toll the job has had over him over the years.

None of that matters, however, when a coordinated drone attack is executed in an attempt to assassinate President Trumbull on a fishing trip. The only survivors are Trumbull, who is left in a coma, and Banning. And here’s the thing – there’s a LOT of evidence pointing at Mike as the one responsible for the attack. He goes on the run, doing his best to evade not just the people who are trying to frame him, but also FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith, “Girls Trip”), who is leading the law enforcement pursuit.

It’s Mike Banning against the world, with only a few people he can trust – including people that he long ago swore never to deal with again. And the clock is ticking, with all of the lies adding up to the possibility that Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”), now acting President, will take severe action against Russia, the state deemed responsible for recruiting Banning into their assassination efforts.

First things first, let’s be clear – there is a lot in “Angel Has Fallen” that just doesn’t make any sense. Almost from the beginning, the internal logic of the narrative is shown to be questionable at best – and it only goes downhill from there. There’s never any doubt who the bad guys are; the movie seems content to just ask the audience to play along and act surprised when the time comes. The action sequences are ludicrous across the board, from basic physics right on up.

But even in the face of all of that, there’s something admirable in the willingness of the filmmakers to unapologetically embrace every formulaic flourish at which they could aim a camera. It’s so lazy that it’s almost inspired. And again – these movies are clearly popular. My own confusing theatergoing experience aside, the previous two “Fallen” movies did solid box office, with the second clearing $200 million globally.

Speaking of the franchise, here’s maybe the biggest question it presents: is Mike Banning terrible at his job or awesome at it? Because you really could make the argument either way and I would be prepared to hear you out. On the one hand, he’s proven pretty good at saving the President, having done so on numerous occasions. On the other hand, doesn’t it seem like the President tends to be in danger A LOT when Mike Banning is around? Correlation is not causation, but still … I’m just saying.

Gerard Butler’s doughy face is back as Mike Banning; he’s giving it his off-brand Bruce Willis-all. I’m not sure when Butler began his transition to dullest dude in Hollywood, but he’s certainly nearing its completion. He and his empty eyes chug on through, hitting marks and remembering lines.

The rest of the cast fares a little better, but only a little. Morgan Freeman is cashing a check. Ditto Jada Pinkett Smith. Their lack of concern actually makes their performances look OK. Huston is working a bit harder. And Tim Blake Nelson kind of went for it, which was a little surprising but probably shouldn’t have been. Oh, and Nick Nolte shows up midway through the movie and is low-key the best thing in it.

“Angel Has Fallen” marks a likely financially successful continuation of a franchise that somehow – inexplicably – continues to get up.

[2 out of 5]

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