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Die Hard' in D.C. - Olympus Has Fallen'

March 27, 2013
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Action movie shoots up the White House

There was a stretch of time when Hollywood was struggling to figure out who the bad guys were going to be. Since the Cold War ended, our conflicts with foreign powers have been seen as standing on murky moral ground. 

However, recent years have granted studios another go-to foreign bad guy to antagonize the red, white and blue. North Korea has been making increasingly frequent appearances as the generic 'country that tries to fight with us.'

'Olympus Has Fallen' is another in that line, with a foreign enemy attacking Americans on American soil. This one goes so far as to directly attack the White House and the President. There are no shades of gray here the lines of demarcation for good and evil are clearly, cleanly drawn.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler; 'Playing for Keeps') is a Secret Service agent on the Presidential detail. His relationship with the First Family President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart; 'The Rum Diary'), First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd; 'Dolphin Tale') and their son Connor (Finley Jacobson; 'Marmaduke') transcends the professional; he's almost a member of their family. But when an automobile accident results in the First Lady's death Banning finds himself on the outside looking in, removed from the President's team.

Months later, Banning is working a desk at the Treasury Department under Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett; 'This Means War'). A delegation from South Korea has come to Washington to meet with the President; however, it turns out that there is more happening here than mere discussion it's a trick. Without warning, a well-organized full-on assault is launched on the White House.

Almost instantly, a terrorist group led by the enigmatic Kang (Rick Yune; 'The Man with the Iron Fists') has taken the President and his entire advisory team hostage and seized control of the bunker buried deep beneath the White House. Security has been breached and White House forces have been overwhelmed, leaving Banning as the President's only hope.

There's nothing particularly innovative here; the film has a very paint-by-numbers feel to it. Director Antoine Fuqua has shown some chops in the past particularly with 'Training Day' but here, he seems content to mostly borrow from the Big Book of Action Movie Clichs a particular debt is owed to 'Die Hard,' which is shamelessly sampled throughout the film. He's got a broken hero with a past trying to atone for past sins both real and perceived. He has an evil foreign enemy (North Koreans). And he absolutely demolishes Washington D.C.

But all that aside, it's still an entertaining film, albeit a bit brainless and overtly jingoistic. Butler makes a fine action star, bringing a staid gruffness to the screen that serves him well as he mows down foreigners. Eckhart is suitably presidential. Yune makes a surprisingly solid bad guy, considering we never really learn much about him.

The supporting cast is solid across the board. Bassett is always good, even in popcorn fare like this. Melissa Leo ('Flight') has some good scenes as the Secretary of Defense. And anytime a movie can come up with a new way to make Morgan Freeman ('The Dark Knight Rises') into the President he's the Speaker of the House, so he's next in the line of succession I'm on board with it.

'Olympus Has Fallen' isn't a great film. But it is an undeniably honest film. It has no pretensions about what it is an excuse to show noted landmarks being exploded and for Gerard Butler to murder the crap out of some bad guys. It's simple and formulaic, sure but it works. It's the kind of brainless action fare that makes for a fine 100-minute diversion. Sometimes, you don't need a movie to be anything more than that.

3 out of 5

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