“Olympus Has Fallen” wants to be the kind of superthriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat and sends you from the theater chatting with your companions about how awesome it was.
It also wants to be “Die Hard” (the original) and the TV series, “24,” right down to the caption typography at the lower left-hand corner of the screen that keeps the audience apprised of the location and the time of day.
It fails to live up to such lofty goals, and the reasons are as apparent as the plot elements and character-types it appropriates liberally from the movie and the show.
Following an opening setup that introduces the main characters and creates something of a backstory for them, “Olympus” rockets into the present, with a thoroughly dazzling terrorist attack on the White House. This sequence is brilliantly choreographed and shot. Aircraft fall from the sky, heavy-caliber tracer ammunition turns buildings into Swiss cheese, innocent bystanders drop in hordes, vehicles explode and monuments fall.
Unfortunately, this is the best part of the movie. As for the rest ...
Well, if you've seen “Die Hard” or “24,” you've seen the rest. The main premise is that terrorists hold the president hostage (Aaron Eckhart, who basically thrashes and glowers his way through the movie with unbridled abandon) in an effort to force the government to do something it would not normally do. (This plot was one of the centerpieces in season seven of “24.”)
Or ... do the terrorists have something even more nefarious in mind? Hmmm ...
Enter our hero, tough, upright former presidential protector turned Treasury Department desk-jockey Michael Banning (Gerard Butler). His marriage is on shaky ground, he's seeking redemption for past failures, and, thanks to his Special Forces training, he's the one man who has a chance of stopping the bad guys.
The movie's problems really begin with the sturdy, long-striding Butler. He is not Bruce Willis, and his numerous wisecracks during the fray ring hollow. He is not Kiefer Sutherland, either. Butler is unable to convey the sort of crazily desperate obsessiveness that made Jack Bauer such a relatable hero for eight TV seasons of “24.” Butler's Banning is simply an unstoppable killing machine, giving the audience little doubt who will prevail.
In the suspense department, Butler gets little help from the writers or from director Antoine Fuqua. At least three strong subplots that might have significantly increased the dramatic tension are unsatisfyingly abandoned during the final half of the film. And the two main conceits of the terrorist plan are based on notions so patently false that they go way beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief. (Unless you happen to buy that the U.S. government would do anything to save the life of the president, or that destroying a ballistic missile with conventional explosives would somehow cause the nuclear warhead to detonate!)
Angela Bassett is basically wasted in this film, as are Morgan Freeman and Robert Forster. Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”), as the fiercely patriotic and tough-as nails secretary of defense, delivers the lone standout performance.
“Olympus Has Fallen” more than earns an “R” rating, for almost nonstop, brutal, graphic violence. It was a good time but fell far short of being a great one.
We'll just have to wait until June 28 for “White House Down,” to see if director Roland Emmerich, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Foxx can take this story to the next level.