By Joan Ellis
“There’s been an incursion!” Yes, indeed.
The White House is in flames and under sustained attack by an invulnerable plane and ground assault teams that machine gun their way through security to wire the perimeter of the grounds with explosives. President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is in handcuffs in the bunker while terrorists torture their way to obtain the nuclear codes. The terrorists are demanding removal of the 7th Fleet from the Pacific and of all soldiers from the DMZ. Are you hearing echoes from 60 years ago? This is the new movie Olympus Has Fallen.
The filmmakers have been smart enough to root their preposterous story so thoroughly in contemporary lore that audiences who know far better still shudder when half the White House is consumed in a fireball.
The only positive here is that every single awful event is immediately preceded by soaring music that warns us in time to close our eyes while our ears absorb the machine gunfire that is littering the portico with dead Secret Service agents. We watch necks break and blood pour from the mouths of people who gurgle as they choke on it.
And, who are the actors in this movie that we should be laughing at but can’t because we’re so scared? That’s the problem; they’re good actors, too convincing to be easily dismissed. Speaker of the House Morgan Freeman takes over for the president and vice president who are, in that order, captured and killed. President Aaron Eckhart, pre- and post-capture, has presidential dignity. Melissa Leo is the brave secretary of defense who endures being tortured to a bloody pulp while refusing to surrender the nuclear codes. Angela Bassett, director of the Secret Service, is smart, tough and controlled. Ashley Judd makes a brief but strong appearance as the president’s wife, and Rick Yune plays terrorist Kang so well that even in his real life, he’ll be on every country’s No-Fly List.
The good guy here is Agent Banning (an appropriately heroic Gerard Butler) who was banished from the Secret Service after a perceived mistake resulted in his being sidelined. Believe me, he makes up for it. On screen nearly full time and missed when he isn’t, Banning is the only man left standing in the smoldering ruins of the White House, the only barrier between the terrorists and nuclear Armageddon. He has an especially good moment when, with the camera lingering lovingly, he crushes a terrorist’s head with a marble bust of Lincoln that he grabs from its pedestal.
The best of the movie unfolds before the bloodshed when we get to watch in relative peace the mechanics and demands of protecting the president. Wherever he goes, they must be. The people and technology required are stupefying. The problem here is that these interesting scenes take roughly 5 minutes; the rest is a flood of blood. After it’s over, just try walking through the dark to your car without looking over your shoulder.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.