A tale neither of ancient Greece nor of a camera company's market share, "Olympus Has Fallen" is instead a typical slab of Hollywood action in which the White House crumbles under attack, the American flag is tattered and tossed aside by baddies, and clichés rise like gods.
Gerard Butler swagger-stars as ex-Secret Service tough guy Mike Banning, who leaps into action from his desk job at Treasury when terrorists initiate a bloody, expertly timed home invasion on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Once inside, he becomes the only man — or, as he modestly puts it at one point, "the best hope you've got" — to save the president (Aaron Eckhart) before he gives away nuclear codes to a sadistic megalomaniac (Rick Yune).
The commander in chief's young son is missing as well and could become a pawn for the terrorists if he's not found. There's a redemption angle, too, of course: 18 months before, Banning couldn't save the president's wife (Ashley Judd) in a car accident. But really, if you're Special Forces-trained and have extensive knowledge of the White House interior, do you need any motivation besides saving the free world?
Another screenplay question: Does everything in this movie, credited to writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, have to be ripped from "Die Hard"? The inside man is one thing, but the idiots in authority, the rooftop adventure gone bad, the hero mistaking a bad guy for a good guy… it's a hostage movie all right, of that 1988 suspense classic. (Bond movies, too, and "In the Line of Fire" for good measure.)
Antoine Fuqua is at the reins, and while he isn't a terrible action director — "Shooter" and "Training Day" easily entertain — he gives in to terrible instincts here, flirting with overwrought patriotism, one too many laugh lines amid numerous characters being shot in the head, and a general chaos-inspired editing technique all too rampant in today's action cinema.
The siege itself is the movie's jittery high point, a multi-pronged onslaught involving aerial attack, diplomatic subterfuge, suicide bombs, and fusillades of bullets — as a what-if set piece, it knocks you back. Too bad the rest of the movie basically toggles between Butler in unlighted rooms ambushing the enemy as presidential portraits look on, Morgan Freeman's speaker of the House — stationed at a command post — wearily making Important Decisions, and Eckhart furiously grimacing at his captor while an Academy Award winner (Melissa Leo) is kicked repeatedly. All that's missing is an "Air Force One"-style retort like "Get out of my HOUSE!"
'Olympus Has Fallen'
MPAA rating: R for strong violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: In general release