Saturday, April 13, 2013

Red and White House

Early 2013 hasn't shown much love for action movies. There are a couple of reasons for that. First up is the fact that audiences are sick of retro action stars who haven't accepted that they don't have the same level of cachet anymore. We've seen Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger struggling against middling turnouts in what used to be their collective wheelhouse, all the good will from the violently fun Expendables series having apparently dried up. What action we have actually deigned to watch this year was largely franchise fare, with GI Joe getting fans to the cinema and not a whole lot else. But for some reason, people came out to see Olympus Has Fallen, directed by Antoine Fuqua and featuring Hollywood's most charismatic voice (Morgan Freeman), its sharpest chin (Aaron Eckhart), and its most dashing rogue (Gerard Butler). For the record, those are three major (and sometimes underappreciated) talents in one major motion picture.

Yippi-ki Yay.
Surprisingly, what's most interesting about Olympus Has Fallen's story is that it's not exactly original; in fact, Fuqua's film is the first of two "terrorists attack the White House" stories to be released this year, with Roland Emmerich's White House Down due out this summer. That's right, folks: just as 2012 featured dueling Snow White productions, Hollywood has declared war on Washington D.C. in 2013. On a typical day at the White House, President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) is in a meeting with the Prime Minister of South Korea to discuss the rising tensions with the nation's aggressive neighbor to the north. What follows is most unexpected, as a sudden and violent terrorist attack captures Asher and several members of his staff, securing them in a bunker beneath 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and wiping out the shocked and vulnerable Secret Service in the process. While the Speaker of the House and acting President Allan Trumbull (Freeman) attempts to diplomatically handle the situation, he's got an asset on the ground: disgraced former Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler), a former special ops soldier who came to the aid of his fellow agents during the attack. With time running out and a dastardly terrorist plot taking shape, Banning might be all there is between us and nuclear holocaust.

Shoot first and ask questions later.
For Butler, it's a return to ass-kicking after a few years of playing dice with his acting career. While I won't disparage his talents - the man has the ability to play drama or comedy, action or romance at the drop of a hat - rarely do audiences seem to care about his movies unless he's killing others with impunity. People seem to enjoy seeing him as an honorable man who blows shit up (thanks to my friend Anne for that coinage) and that's certainly how Olympus Has Fallen succeeds, putting Butler and his fellow actors forward and letting them carry the story. Say what you will about the movie as a whole (and I will), but the film does a good job utilizing its cast, from the trio of stars to strong supporting turns by the likes of Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo and Dylan McDermott, among a slew of others.

Rocking the bow tie.
Unfortunately that's about where the only bright spot of this movie lies. While the production values are decent, and the action scenes competent enough to keep your attention, what can't be ignored is just how STUPID the script and the plot are. While you certainly shouldn't expect that the amount of political savvy here would rival the stories of, say, The West Wing, but the inanity of the story is downright silly. Fighter jets lose to a hulking super carrier because they line up perfectly with the plane's mounted machine guns. The bad guy's plans hinge on the US President making the ABSOLUTE wrong decision, and when he does his secret servicemen barely put up a fight about the ignorance of procedure. And speaking of the men tasked with protecting the leader of the free world: when the enemy is advancing under the cover of smoke and firing machineguns and RPGs, standing out in the open to get gunned down is decidedly not decent military training. It's illogical, cringe-worthy idiocy like this that ruins the flow of Olympus, and a little more time penning a reasonable script wouldn't have prevented our hero from kicking ass. Instead we're issued a needlessly hyper-violent movie where everybody is so stupid that the director assumes his audience is as well, and that they'll enjoy two hours of mindless gunfights and blatant pro-US pandering.

Glad I'm not on the janitorial crew...
Normally I'd say something along the lines of turning off your brain for a good time, but while Olympus Has Fallen manages to be among the better action movies released this year, it's still pretty damned mediocre. Being a step up from the worst of Stallone, Statham and Willis is nothing to be proud of, and Fuqua has taken some serious missteps in the time since his Training Day height. If you really, REALLY need to see an action movie before Iron Man 3 comes out next month, then maybe you can stomach the bloody, masochistic silliness that is this newest blend of repetitive explosions and monosyllabic dialogue. But if you can wait for this on DVD - or even skip it entirely - then I recommend you do so. Strong cast aside, there's just not enough reason to pay full price for a ticket, especially when you can wait just a few weeks for loads of better options.

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