Thursday, March 28, 2013

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN Is Highly Entertaining, Highly Ridiculous


- OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is not a good movie. The script has more holes than swiss cheese, the f/x are spotty, the direction is muddled and rushed-feeling, and even though the film plays things essentially straight, it's filled with moments that are flat-out ridiculous. And yet ... this is a highly entertaining popcorn flick that I would urge any old-school action movie fan to run out and see in a crowded theater asap. The film mixes the over-the-top, ra-ra patriotism of an Independence Day with the brutal, hilariously extraneous violence of an 80's-era Schwarzenegger flick. So for all of the movie's faults, it is, still, one heck of a crowd-pleaser. Even as I was rolling my eyes at the stupidity, I was smiling at the sheer insanity of it all.

The set-up for this film is so cheesy, yet awesomely so (if awesomely cheesy floats your boat like it does mine). The movie even begins with a lengthy prologue that establishes the back-story for Gerard Butler's Mike Banning (even his name feels old-school!). We learn that Mike was once the President's (the President, as played by square-jawed Aaron Eckhart, is clearly in the Bill Pullman-in-Independence Day mold) lead secret service agent, until a fateful day when Mike failed to protect the President's wife (Ashley Judd) from the destructive force of ICE-COVERED ROADS. Following the first lady's death, Mike resigns from the secret service in disgrace, and takes a pencil-pushing office job in DC, mere blocks from the White House. Of course, Mike being the paranoid, overprotective type, keeps one eye out his office window for any signs of trouble at 1600 Penn. And one day, trouble comes. An undercover army of North Korean extremists (note: this is NOT the North Korean government, just a radical group from North Korea, FYI) INVADES WASHINGTON. Suddenly, the streets of DC are filled with machine gun-wielding evil North Koreans blowing the crap out of everyone and everything. Their ultimate target is the White House. After mowing down nearly everyone in the vicinity, the leader of the North Koreans (who is actually named KANG - seriously!) hold the President and key members of his cabinet (including feisty Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense) in a security bunker, eager to extract launch code information from them. Meanwhile, the President's young son is hiding somewhere in the White House, an ill-prepared Morgan Freeman (playing the Speaker of the House) assumes the role of Acting President, and dammit all, Mike Banning springs into action, on a one-man mission to infiltrate the heavily-guarded White House and singlehandedly kill as many evil North Koreans as possible, preferably via the method of STABBING IN THE BRAIN.

There are many, many things that make little to no sense in the film ... but at the end of the day, logic and sense are thrown out the window so that Gerard Butler can stab North Koreans, Aaron Eckhart can boldly refuse to give up classified information, and many slo-mo shots of the American flag being either lowered in defeat or raised in triumph can be shown. Butler is pretty okay in the role, though I don't think he does "ordinary Joe who can kill like a mofo" as well as he does "ancient king who can kill like a mofo." Suffice it to say, I did wonder a few times what this would have been like had it just been the 24 movie and starred Jack Bauer in all of his gravitas-infused glory. But while Butler doesn't have any truly iconic "yipee-kay-ay" moments (though he does stab many people in the head in quite remarkable fashion), he does a good job overall of carrying the film. And others like Eckhart, Leo, and Freeman just feel super-overqualified. You've got to give them credit - they commit fully to their parts, and imbue every line with so much sincerity and gung-ho purpose that, my god, you can't help but root for them to save the day (and god bless America while we're at it).

While it's easy to forgive, say, Aaron Eckhart, for some of the absurdities of his character in this movie, it's a little less easy to find the good in some of the other characters. One example is Dylan McDermott's shifty diplomat, who seems to have paper-thin motivation and seems only there to be the obligatory slimeball character. I get that this is a big action movie and we're dealing with archetypes, but there are certain character beats in the film - and certain twists in general - that really have no explanation beyond "just because."

In all honesty though, the biggest distraction in the film is the spotty direction and visuals. Whole segments often seem oddly/poorly lit and hard to decipher. Director Antoine Fuqua seems to get a little lost at times trying to keep track of all the action, which often feels sloppily cut. There's a lot of chaos in the initial North Korean invasion scenes - which I get is part of the point - but it's also sometimes nearly impossible to tell who's shooting at who. The f/x also veer from decent to laughable, with some scenes of aerial combat feeling particularly Playstation 1-ish.

Still, man ... the movie is just so bombastic, so gleefully over-the-top, so unabashedly absurd ... I had to admire it. While Antoine Fuqua shows little of Roland Emmerich's directorial panache, he seems to share his love for ham and cheese. This is a movie that doesn't miss a chance for a Big Speech, a Last Stand, or a Last Minute Save. It's an SNL parody waiting to happen, but not at all ashamed of that fact.

And so I'm a little torn. There is enough that is downright silly, dumb, or shoddily-handled in this film that I really hesitate to sing its praises too much. And yet, it's uber-watchable, and I had to admire the movie's giddy sense of balls-to-the-wall, anything-goes insanity. If nothing else, I was both shocked and amused to see a modern action film that embraced both 90's-style earnestness and 80's-style violence, all in a single package. And hey, when you've got guys like Morgan Freeman onboard - it makes the madness that much more epic. If you've got a soft spot for movies from those eras, and can ironically appreciate a cheesy action film and all of its so-bad-it's-good schlock (and as a pleasant antidote to the uber dark n' serious action films we tend to get nowadays), you'll probably want to see this. Good? No. Ridiculous? Yes. See it? Yeah, you really, probably should.

My Grade: B

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