“America has its first summer blockbuster!”
So trumpets the latest trailer for Olympus Has Fallen, desperately trying to pump up interest for this turgid lump of flag porn by quoting a clearly confused Washington Post reviewer. (Maybe she assumed it’d be warm out by the time the film actually hit theaters.) Turns out that despite a ton of shameless borrowing from the entire history of jingoistic action movies, this is a March movie plain and simple, dumped out here in the movie calendar deadlands in order to avoid competing with the no doubt far superior White House Down, slated for actual summertime release and which, despite being directed by Independence Day’s Roland Emmerich, just has to be better at working the same high concept. It’s a good bet Emmerich didn’t outsource the CGI to Bulgaria, or frontload all the action in the first half-hour, or waste a cast this excellent with lines like “Let’s play a game of Go Fuck Yourself. You go first.”
Die Hard is the game changer you most wish you were watching when you see Gerard Butler take back the White House from super evil North Korean terrorists headed by Die Another Day’s Rick Yune. Yune basically plays it as your standard evil Asian, a cartoon of smug inscrutability, but Butler, who deserves some sort of Lifetime Achievement Razzie already for being the best thing about a buttload of awful movies, gives it everything, sells this recycled swill as if it were Grande Cuvée.
Indeed, if half of being famous is showing up, the other half has to be Gerard’s Michael Caine-level ability to not smell the obviousness coming off of scripts like this one. There’s the Die Hard one-man-army thing, the ridiculous Red Dawn ease of taking over the country with a few planes and one inside guy, a little 300 siege mentality, and of course the dollar-menu version of those Independence Day visuals — firefight at the Oval Office, the Washington Monument destroyed. There’s even Morgan Freeman as the Deep Impact president.
Well, acting president. Aaron Eckhart as the real commander-in-chief gets kidnapped and handcuffed early on, reducing him to a square-jawed, steely-eyed jpg; he’s Presidential bondage kink. It’s probably for the best, however, since Freeman himself doesn’t get to do anything but argue with his head General about whether or not to let John McClane, I mean, uh, Butler’s character, do his thing. Air Force One this is not. It’s not even A Good Day to Die Hard. Though like that movie, it does introduce a pointless subplot about family and redemption, shamelessly manipulating the President’s only child and — much like the bad guys do throughout Olympus — engaging in a little emotional blackmail.
Then again, shamelessness is the only card this movie has to play. The tragedy of 9/11, which we’ve apparently all gotten past, is merely a jumping-off point for Training Day director Antoine Fuqua: the body count’s video-game large, with lots of execution-style kills and closeup torture, including a Hillaryish Secretary of Defense getting the diplomacy kicked out of her. The flag itself gets shot, burned, and thrown off the roof of the nation’s capitol. And the bad guys are not only trying to get America to give up the whole bottom half of the Korean peninsula, they want to blow up all our nukes in their silos, effectively turning the whole nation into a irradiated wasteland.
How Yune’s baddie plans to escape in the middle of such an apocalypse is never explained, much less why he’s taking the President with him, but whatever. Add the chain of command to the list of things this flick is proudly Neanderthal about; if you love revenge and nationalism more than logic, and concept always trumps execution, you’re Olympus Has Fallen’s dream demo. Somewhere, in an appropriately dark and deserted afternoon matinee, Sarah Palin is rubbing one out.