During the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union that provided the token adversary for trumped-up political thrillers about foreign invasions and world domination. These days, North Korea seems to have involuntarily picked up the slack.
There’s one moment early in Olympus Has Fallen that pretty much sums up the emotional ambition of the entire film — when North Korean terrorists shoot holes in the American flag, on the White House grounds, to a rousing marching-band score.
So at least this gleefully preposterous action thriller is upfront about its total lack of subtlety, with credibility thrown out the window right behind it. Just because the film winks at its own absurdities, however, doesn’t make its aggressively formulaic approach more endearing.
The film follows Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a former special operations and Secret Service agent who was reassigned to the treasury department following a tragic accident that leaves him remorseful.
More than a year later, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is meeting with diplomats when a North Korean terrorist (Rick Yune) masterminds an elaborate plot to infiltrate the White House and attack the country, taking the president and key cabinet members hostage. While defense officials ponder his demands, Banning races the clock in a one-man vigilante quest to save the world.
The story takes place in a fictional era of modern bipartisanship, where political leaders are referred to by name instead of by party, and where everybody seems united in their respect for the president and other top office holders.
There are some slick action sequences that bolster this flag-waving crowd-pleaser from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), yet the cookie-cutter script seems more content to rip-off ideas from Die Hard and other superior thrillers. At least the screenwriters seem to have a fairly extensive knowledge of Secret Service lingo and procedures (the title is code for the White House falling into enemy hands).
The resourcefulness and invincibility of Banning is hilarious, maybe designed as an over-the-top homage to macho action heroism. Then there’s the esteemed Morgan Freeman, playing the Speaker of the House who becomes president when Asher is taken hostage, who barely seems able to keep a straight face.
Amid all of its hollow patriotism and gaps in logic, perhaps the biggest flaw with the film is its sheer predictability, except for the lack of The Star-Spangled Banner playing over the closing credits.
Rated R, 119 minutes.