I made my way toward my seat, scootching past seated audience members (guards, if you will) holding my notebook in one hand, a bag in the other and my jacket dangling between. Hunched over as I was, my hat fell off my head, landing on the floor. “Olympus has fallen!” I shouted. “Repeat, Olympus has fallen!”
Despite having not seen one trailer or TV commercial, I was certain that this exact line reading was sure to come during the film. In this and all other matters of predictability, I was not to be disappointed.
Antoine Fuqua's ("Training Day") new film stars Gerard Butler as John McToughguy (probably not the actual character's name), the best Secret Service agent there is. He's no longer in the direct employ of the President (Aaron Eckhart evoking Bill Pullman) because part of being the best Secret Service agent there is means rescuing the President from an SUV that's dangling over the side of an icy bridge, and doing so at the expense of the First Lady (who, the film refuses to admit, was probably already dead).
18 months or so after the accident, Butler has been demoted to a desk job at the Treasury department (POTUS recognizes him as a hero, but just can't bear to see him). From his window Butler can still see the White House (code name "Olympus") where the action and the scampy First Son are. When the South Korean delegation comes for an important state meeting that's actually a Trojan horse of terrorist activity, Butler's being on the outside saves him from the first line of destruction.
A massive bomber jet, sanitation trucks with high-end machine guns, suicide bombers and detailed knowledge of the White House's interior all lead to the brutal “unionist” Korean (Rick Yune) holding the Prez and his top brass hostage in an underground bunker. Bullets and brains fly everywhere and the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman,) now acting President, has a ticking clock to remove troops from the DMZ and the 7th Fleet from the Pacific. "Come out to D.C., we'll get together, have a few laughs..." Yeah, it's "Die Hard" in the White House, but there are definitely worse places to set a "Die Hard" knock-off (see "A Good Day to Die Hard". Better yet, don't).
Time is running out. Downstairs, secret codes are being extracted (hey, leave Secretary of Defense Melissa Leo alone, you brute!) while upstairs Gerard Butler is working overtime as a blunt killing machine. He has none of the verbal panache of Bruce Willis' John McClane, and Eckhart isn't given any resonant koans like “get off my plane,” but the tension and release of each kill brought cheers from the bread and circuses crowd at my papered theatrical screening.
If you can't figure out who the mole on the American side is by the three minute mark of “Olympus Has Fallen” I suppose there are some surprises in store for you. Despite such narrative shortcomings, the bone-breaking fisticuffs are propulsive enough to keep you from making too many inquiries. Like “how does Butler know all about the secret Hydra weapons, which Secret Service Director Angela Bassett doesn't know about, but not the Cerberus weapons, which she does know about?” Or “why hasn't the White House changed its security codes after 18 months?” Or “why does Butler still have thumbprint access even though he was dismissed?” Or “why do the Koreans know about everything except the air conditioner shaft to the bushes?”
With luck, you won't care. Nor will you care when the big bad mole explains his treason by shouting incoherently about “globalism and f**king Wall Street!” The action is the real star here, and it's all good enough. It isn't great - the aerial special effects are distractingly cheap - but at least there's lots of it on display. So if you have an uncle who hasn't seen a movie since “Taken,” he's gonna' love this one. Whether or not being in a darkened theater as people cheer knives plunging into Asian foreheads and tattered American flags are hoisted to rousing horns gives you a lump in your throat or a serious case of the willies is entirely your call, and you're likely to apply much more thought to the matter than the filmmakers ever did.