And, of course, (2) the inevitable slow-motion model White House explosion due to alien invasion in Independence Day…remember seeing this scene during the Superbowl that year?
This year, there are two terrorists-take-over-the-White-House-and-only-one-man-can-save-us movies. This is the first. The second, White House Down, stars Channing Tatum as the secret service agent, Jamie Foxx as the President and is due out in June. Olympus Has Fallen has a huge advantage over White House Down, primarily because it came out earlier; and secondly because it is directed by action veteran Antoine Fuqua. He has done the Replacement Killers, Bait, Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur (my favorite of his movies) Shooter, and Brooklyn’s finest. He got started by directing music videos and has been married to Lela Rochon since 1999 (that has nothing to do with this review; it’s just a random piece of interesting information). He excels at gritty action pictures, and this is no exception. It’s also only the second movie this year to be better than I was expecting (the other was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters). Everything else has been below expectations (I’m talking to you Oz).
Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is the President’s friend and bodyguard. He’s pals with the President’s son (quizzing him on all the secret passages in the White House – that pays off later) and gets along well with the first lady. Then one night while leaving Camp David in a snowstorm, the presidential limo gets in an accident, Banning successfully saves the president, but not the first lady. The president knows Banning did the right thing, but looking at him brings back memories, so he banishes Banning to a desk job.
18 months later, the President is hosting the prime minister of South Korea when North Korean terrorists take over the White House and take the President, the Vice-President, The Secretary of Defense, and several others hostage. Banning gets inside once he realizes what is going on, and proceeds to work his way through the building, looking for the President’s son, and communicating with the Head of Secret Service and The Speaker of the House (who then becomes acting President). Nothing in this movie is original, so you know that someone says the required line, “He’s the best we’ve got,” and someone else says the other required line, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” You knew both of those lines would be in this movie from the description. Ass-kicking, action, and complicated nuclear missile protection systems activated by three separate codes ensue.
I was expecting this movie to be terrible, I can’t say for sure why, I have always like Fuqua as a director, and Gerard Butler is a far better action movie star than a romantic comedy star. It was surprisingly good and entertaining. I have to hope that our national security and defense systems are better prepared for an incident like this than we were portrayed as being in this movie. These terrorists get into the White House pretty quickly, and with a whole lot of destruction.
The cast is pretty great for what would otherwise be a dumb action movie.
· Gerard Butler as Mike Banning: Again, Gerry (I’ve been a fan since Reign of Fire, so I’m going to call him Gerry) is far better in action movies than in the slew of rom-coms he’s been making lately. I’m still not convinced he can pull off an American accent. The Scottish accent creeps in here and there, but he’s great in this as the one man who can save the day – and refuses to fail until his objective is completed.
· Aaron Eckhart as President Asher: This seems like a small role for Eckhart; see him in Thank you for Smoking, if you want to see him at his best. He’s pretty good as the president, but the aforementioned three part nuclear missile control code subplot is predictable (although, to be honest, the whole movie is predictable). Why would the three people who have pieces of the code all be together so they could all be trapped in the bunker? And why would the President order the other two to go ahead and give the bad guy their codes, because “he’ll never get mine.” Isn’t that negotiating with terrorists, and didn’t you just say we don’t?
· Dylan McDermott as Agent Forbes: Again, a small role for a good actor. He’s (spoiler alert – sort of) the recently retired secret service agent who becomes the American turncoat working with the North Korean terrorists. The reasons for his turn are not clear, so it doesn’t really play and doesn’t really seem necessary. It’s not like they needed him to take over. I think he’s there just to identify Banning when he appears on a monitor.
· Rick Yune as Kang: Rick Yune used to be a Hedgefund Trader on Wall Street and got into some modeling; which lead to some acting (Fast and Furious 1, Die Another Day). He’s very American, but of Korean descent and so has become the go-to villain lately in action movies as North Koreans have become the go-to action movie bad guys (when I was growing up in the early 80s it was always Russians, then it went to Mid-Easterners, then China a little, and now North Korea – funny how that works). He seems to really be enjoying himself in this movie, chewing the scenery a little as the big bad who gets to push the president around in his bunker.
· Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House Trumbull: Morgan Freeman is (surprise) not the president in this movie, but then he becomes acting president and things return to what you expected. He very calmly takes control of the situation and does a good job. The majority of his scenes are with Angela Bassett in the control room yelling things at Banning through a speaker on the table.
· Angela Bassett as Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs: Likewise, Basset does a good job yelling at Banning through a speakerphone. Both she and Freeman seem like really big names to have small roles in this, but I would imagine they had a good time shooting their pieces.
· Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan: I don’t recognize her when I see her and this is the second movie where at the credits I went, “oh, that’s who that was”. The other movie was Flight. Melissa Leo plays the Secretary of Defense as very tough and no-nonsense, and she does have some pretty great scenes in the bunker both with the President and the bad guys.
· Radha Mitchell as Leah Banning: This was interesting, Banning’s relationship with his wife is established, but then nothing is ever done with it – except to reunite them at the end. The terrorists even mention that they know he’s married, and where she works – which of course led me to believe they would go in and capture her to use as leverage against him, but that never happens. A good thing I suppose, but strange to throw in that potential, take the time to mention it, and then do nothing with it – I wonder if a scene was cut out there?
· Cole Hauser as Agent Roma: Also, not enough Cole Hauser in this movie. He’s plenty good as the secret service agent in charge when Banning is removed, but then he doesn’t really get anything else to do. Go watch Pitch Black again.
· Robert Forster as General Edward Clegg: Forster is good in everything he does – provided it’s within his wheelhouse. He was one of the most watchable parts of the Descendants, and he’s great in this.
It’s not original – it’s basically Die Hard in the White House – but it’s well put together with some really impressive action sequences and commitment from the actors. Again, if you’re not expecting too much, you’ll really enjoy it.
7 out of 10. Gained points for the long, slow-motion shot of the flag falling from the White House, at the same time cheesy and moving. Lost points for not enough Cole Hauser, although he did get the pretigious role of getting to say the title. Gained points for Melissa Leo being tough and refusing to give the bad guys her code, but then lost points when the President ordered her to give it up. Gained points for the kid never really being in any serious danger – I appreciated that.
Bonus Video 1: Reign of Fire, back when Gerry was young and fresh and before Bale was Batman and McConaughey still did not own a shirt (wears a vest for most of this movie).
Bonus Video 2: Pitch Black, both Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell in an absolutely fantastic Vin Diesel sci-fi picture.
Bonus Video 3: 1600 Penn – this show is slowly growing on me, really only because of Josh Gad (who helped to create it), and who really has the guts to set a sitcom in the White House?
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews…