Sunday, April 14, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen / ** (R)

Mike Banning: Gerard Butler
President Benjamin Asher: Aaron Eckhart
Kang: Rick Yune
Speaker Trumbull: Morgan Freeman
Forbes: Dylan McDermott
Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs: Angela Bassett
Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan: Melissa Leo
General Edward Clegg: Robert Forster
Leah: Radha Mitchell
Connor: Finley Jacobson

FilmDistrict and Millennium Films present a film directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout).

I don’t know if there’s anymore angst targeted on Washington by the American people than any other period in our nation’s history or not, but it certainly isn’t one of the most amicable periods of time between the Republic and those elected to represent them. I think the success of a movie like “Olympus Has Fallen” is probably a result of that. Oh, it’s filled with all the American pride and respect for the institution you can expect from a patriotic Hollywood establishment, but it gives us the satisfaction of seeing the symbols of our government blown to smithereens.

The movie depicts a terrorist attack on the nation’s capital. The attack begins with a heavily armed airplane decimating most of Washington D.C.’s most recognizable landmarks, ala the rules of any disaster movie. The attack culminates on a bloody siege on the front lawn of the White House while the President is meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister inside. It isn’t that hard to guess who is behind the attack. The action is in the tradition of the highest grade action franchises of Hollywood. In fact, the movie probably could’ve been titled “Die Hard in the White House”. If John McClane had somehow been invited to a White House function by mistake and happened to be on hand during the attack, no other development in the movie would need to be changed.

Instead of Bruce Willis, we get Gerard Butler as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, assigned to a Pentagon desk job after saving the President but losing the First Lady in a winter car accident. Despite his Pentagon assignment he somehow manages his way into the White House lawn melee and eventually is the last man standing between the freedom of our country and a North Korean madman named Kang.

Now, in terms of its escapist action elements “Olympus Has Fallen” delivers on a high scale. Director Antoine Fuqua has played this game before and he choreographs intense action sequences that employ every trick in the book when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, tricky situations, big bang shootouts and high impact explosions. Where the paint-by-numbers screenplay by Crieghton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt falls short is in the details.

First of all, when I call this screenplay “paint-by-numbers”, I mean you could literally play this movie simultaneously with “Die Hard” and every plot development would reveal itself at the exact same time in perfect synchronicity. Butler’s brooding no nonsense agent picks off the invading team with great success at first and learns more about the terrorists than they know about him. He has early triumphs to set the terrorists’ plans back until they finally do learn a little something about him. Then the good guys working from outside the White House make some boneheaded choices and ignore the hero’s advice. This sets the hero up for a setback that would stop any normal man. Finally, they figure out a resolution, but the hero realizes almost too late that it was all a ruse and must have a final showdown with the villain, who’s going out the back door while everyone’s looking at the front. Hell, I think even some of the lines are the same, “I gotta check on something.” I don’t know why these heroes don’t tell the people who think the situation is resolved what they suspect.

Even though all this works perfectly fine in some action films, it doesn’t here because of the sloppy writing that is more intent on setting up the plot than sealing the deal with solid details. The terrorists’ plans could easily be subverted with just a little political chess play on the acting President’s part. Casting Morgan Freeman in the role of Speaker of the House to act as President isn’t all that’s necessary to make his actions believable.

I mentioned that the terrorists find out some information about the hero. Specifically, they learn that his wife is an ER doctor in one of the area hospitals. Kang taunts Banning with this information, but since he had no idea of Banning’s existence before the attack and has no agents working outside the White House after he’s taken it over, what does it matter that he knows anything personal about Banning?

As is customary with such a high profile target in an action flick, there must be an inside man. I challenge anyone not to guess who the traitor is the moment he’s introduced. What’s worse, the traitor doesn’t even offer that much knowledge for the terrorists. Wouldn’t you think security codes and passwords would be changed on a regular basis, like more often than every 18 months, in a high security installation like the White House? It is by pure chance that the traitor is able get the terrorists access into the President’s bunker, which is where they must be in order to carry out any of their plans. Their presence is a breach in protocol that the traitor has no way of ensuring. Good thing for him, he’s in a movie that necessitates the break in protocol. It’s also a good thing for the terrorists that the Secret Service’s tactical plans involved every one of them running out onto the White House lawn and sacrificing themselves.

Finally there’s the terrorists’ access to U.S. weapons systems. The screenwriters could use a little schooling on how a self-destruct mechanism works. I think part of the purpose of a self-destruct mechanism on a nuclear warhead would be that it would not detonate the nuke, since aborting a nuclear strike would quite pointless if the nukes still went off. Also there’s the matter of the next generation weapons of which the terrorists somehow gained possession. How did this happen? How can you introduce this fact into a movie that is all about plot and not address it? These are not weapons the traitor would’ve had access to, and I’m pretty sure the U.S. military establishment would notice if they went missing.

I could go on for quite sometime pointing out the plot holes in “Olympus Has Fallen”. As a writer, I can’t help but wonder how these things could go unnoticed considering the great number of people that must read a screenplay before it is finally filmed. I’d think even the actors would be scratching their heads at some of the gaping holes found here. C’mon Freeman, just raise your hand during the read through and say, “Shouldn’t this here be resolved?” I guess that’s not how you get to play multiple Presidents and God in Hollywood, but you’d think the experience might make it more difficult to say yes to such projects. I’m sure for many these holes won’t make any difference in their ability to enjoy this piece of escapism. For me, it brought me out of the movie every time I noticed one.

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