In "Olympus Has Fallen," terrorists don't just take over the White House. On their way there, they rain down streams of bullets on the tourists visiting the monuments on the Mall and the citizens of the city downtown making their way to work, home, or meetings. For residents of Washington, watching such scenes would be absolutely terrifying -- if the city on screen looked anything like it does in reality.
But few movies are filmed in Washington, besides a bit of background -- bureaucrats make it nearly impossible for filmmakers to do so -- and so Bossier City, La., stands in for the District, and doesn't always do a good job of it.
The scenes of violence within the White House itself are another story. Though few Americans might have walked through its hallowed halls, most have an idea of what it looks like, thanks to films and television shows like this one. So when terrorists finally make their way into the building and examine each body lying on the ground, systematically killing everyone who remains alive, the shock does finally hit home.
"Olympus Has Fallen" can be summed up most easily as "Die Hard" in the White House. Given that "Die Hard" is one of the best action films ever made, that's not an aspersion. The 2013 film doesn't reach quite the heights of the 1988 one. But given that the latest "Die Hard" had nowhere near the wit of the original, there's certainly room for other entries in the genre of the tough guy with a brain and a heart who wisely ignores clueless bureaucrats as he risks his own life for the greater good.
|'Olympus Has Fallen'|
|» Rating: 3 out of 4 stars|
|» Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman|
|» Director: Antoine Fuqua|
|» Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout|
|» Running time: 118 minutes|
Gerald Butler ("300") takes on the Bruce Willis role with aplomb. Mike Banning is a legend in the Secret Service, for his ability and for his attitude -- he once told off the speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman -- but he's been demoted to desk duty after he failed to prevent a small tragedy. But his office at Treasury has a view of the White House (code name: Olympus), and when the attack begins, he sees the action and rushes to help.
Being outside the White House saved him -- he's the only man in the service left standing after North Korean terrorists prove brutally efficient. But Banning is brutal, too, as we see when he captures two terrorists and subjects them to what can only be called "enhanced interrogation techniques." Banning must first find the president's son before the North Koreans do and use him as a bargaining chip with the president (Aaron Eckhart, looked exceedingly presidential), and then the president himself, holed up in what was supposed to be a safe bunker underground with his vice president and secretary of defense (played by Melissa Leo).
Terrorist mastermind Kang (Rick Yune, a suave Bond villain in "Die Another Day") wants America to end its protection of South Korea -- and a whole lot more, but to say what would ruin some of the few surprises in the plot.
"Olympus Has Fallen" is a solid action film, and it hints at big ideas that make it something more than purely superficial entertainment. Butler does slip into his native Scottish accent now and then, but he's otherwise completely capable of carrying a film. Every now and then, the shots of the Stars and Stripes flying over the White House feel a little over-the-top. But as North Korea seems increasingly willing to start a fight, the good old-fashioned Americanism of "Olympus Has Fallen" seems particularly welcome.