Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to go into a genre film with no expectations and have it turn out to be very entertaining. Such is the case with the current action opus Olympus Has Fallen. “Olympus” is the Secret Service code for the White House, and the plot concerns evildoer terrorists seizing the White House and holding the president and his entire security staff hostage. Naturally, there’s a suffering hero who saves the day and there’s never a moment in which you believe the film will not arrive at its expected outcome.
One nice twist to Olympus Has Fallen is its “ripped from headlines” touches. This time, the baddies are North Korean, with more than a touch of James Bond-ish villainy. I saw the film on Wednesday, and was thinking that the producers were engaging in a touch of prescient political puckery by casting Ashley Judd in a cameo as the First Lady. Wednesday evening’s news reported that Ms. Judd has decided not to pursue a political career after all. I also liked how in the film, the head of the Secret Service was a woman. The same Wednesday newscast had a story about the new head of the Secret Service who is the first woman in history to hold that position.
Timeliness aside, Olympus Has Fallen benefits from a strong cast. Gerard Butler, the Scottish actor who seems to be getting a lot of roles, is fine as the emotionally wounded former Secret Service agent now assigned to the Treasury Department. Dependable character actor Aaron Eckhart plays the president. He was especially good in the indie flick Thank You For Smoking, and got major exposure as Harvey Dent in the Batman film The Dark Night. And, of course, what would a film with political leanings be without Morgan Freeman, who seems to have replaced Gene Hackman as the hardest workingman in showbiz. This time, since he couldn’t be the president, Freeman plays the Speaker of the House. The backup players are also a hardy lot. There’s Oscar nominee Robert Forster as a hard-edged general; Oscar winner Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense; Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, as the aforementioned head of the Secret Service; Dylan McDermott, who enjoyed a lengthy run as star of the TV series The Practice, as another member of the Secret Service; and Rick Yune as the suave, cocky, and determined head of the terrorists. Other than some of the plot devices, it’s Yune’s bad guy performance that reminds us of the James Bondian roots of this tale.
Capably directed by Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to his second Oscar in the intense Training Day, he infuses the film with suspense and character interest. On the down side, much of the film takes place in darkened corners of the White House, which is without power, and sometimes is too dark to really tell what’s going on. And some of the special effects and miniatures, along with a few lines of dialogue, are on the cheesy side. But those are minor quibbles, as the film succeeds in doing what it set out to do.
And since Hollywood has never been know for much originality, there’s another film coming out in June titled White House Down, which is pretty much the same thing all over again, this time with Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jamie Foxx, as they say, as the President.
The R-rated Olympus Has Fallen is currently showing at a screening room near you.