In the twenty-five years since Die Hard arrived, Hollywood has exhausted pretty much every “Die Hard in a…” scenario imaginable (to say nothing of the Die Hard franchise itself). But it turns out there was still one left– Die Hard at the White House. It’s such a popular idea, in fact, that we get not one, but two White House invasion movies in the next three months.
Olympus Has Fallen is the first– the latest from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), starring Gerard Butler in the John McClane role as a lone hero fighting a terrorist army.
Butler is Mike Banning, the former head of the President’s Secret Service detail, who was demoted to desk jockey after an accident involving the President (Aaron Eckhart) and the First Lady (Ashley Judd). Eighteen months later, Banning becomes America’s only hope when North Korean terrorists take over Washington D.C.
All the ingredients for a great “Die Hard in a…” movie are here– the cocky (and bulletproof) hero, the profanity-laden and comical one-liners (yes, there’s a nifty “Yippe-kay-yay” alternative), and the gratuitous violence (the opening attack is one, long, twenty-minute, visceral bloodbath). Plus, being set against the backdrop of our nation’s capital, there’s no shortage of patriotism, political wrangling, and infuriating obstinance from the military brass.
Though as derivative (perhaps no movie in recent memory is more so) as it is, Olympus Has Fallen still manages to emerge from the rubble as a pretty decent movie– purely on an entertainment level.
There’s not much here (acting, script, direction) that rises to a level remotely approaching “memorable”, but Fuqua does manage to ratchet up the tension and create a flick that, for all intents and purposes, works. Sure, some of it is pretty silly (the bloodied Secretary of Defense melodramatically shouting the Pledge of Allegiance as she’s dragged down a hallway), but by and large Olympus Has Fallen accomplishes what it sets out to do.
The male cast does an admirable job– including Butler, who more than makes up for the unmitigated disaster that was Playing for Keeps, and Morgan Freeman, who lends some much needed gravitas to the proceedings as the Speaker of the House. The women in the film, though, don’t fare nearly as well. Judd vanishes before things even get going, and Angela Bassett is relegated to doing not much more than chewing her fingernails and giving Banning some trite words of encouragement. Radha Mitchell is the most egregiously wasted, though, as Banning’s wife (yes, the Bonnie Bedelia role); it’s enough to make you wonder why her character even exists.
The screenplay by first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is fairly pedestrian, but give them credit for taking a pretty rote idea and turning it into something watchable. The highest praise though goes to Fuqua and to production designer Derek Hill, who make it remarkably easy to forget that the whole thing was filmed on a set in Shreveport.
It may just be good enough to be the best “Die Hard in the White House” movie we see this year. (White House Down with Channing Tatum hits theaters in June.)