As Criticwire recently pointed out, the years after 1988 were littered with “Die Hard” knock-offs, set in or on buses (“Speed”), aircraft carriers (“Under Siege”), hockey arenas (“Sudden Death”) and Air Force One (“Air Force One”).
A quarter-century later, “Die Hard” finally comes to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with “Olympus Has Fallen,” a thrilling but dopey action flick that keeps things moving even while it defies logic and slavishly follows the barefoot-Bruce-Willis formula.
This time around, the Lone Renegade Who’s Our Only Hope is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a high-ranking Secret Service agent who got bounced to Treasury a year and a half earlier after he made the tough choice to save the life of President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) in a car accident even though it meant losing the First Lady (Ashley Judd).
During a White House visit by the South Korean premier, a well-orchestrated attack on Washington, D.C., sees a plane fly into the Washington Monument while terrorists take the president and his advisors hostage in the bunker beneath the White House. Banning sneaks in during a firefight and winds up being the only link with the outside world, communicating via the president’s satellite phone with the head of the Secret Service (Angela Bassett), a blustery general (Robert Forster) at the Pentagon and the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman).
The latter is acting chief executive while the prez and VPOTUS are being held hostage — but relax everyone, it’s Morgan Freeman. (The cool-headed Freeman and Bassett essentially play Reginald VelJohnson to Butler’s Bruce Willis, while Forster is the Paul Gleason.)
The villainous plot leads, inevitably, to the bright red countdown clock that features in so many action movies, and the terrorists’ scheme has so many holes that it’s best not to ask questions. Subsequently, director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) provides explosions and gun battles (R-rated, blood-splattery gun battles, it’s worth noting) with enough frequency to paper over the gaps in the script by first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt.
With all this rushing about and blowing things up, however, the movie skirts past some potentially interesting subplots; for example, it’s established early on that the president’s young son (Finley Jacobsen) knows all the secret ins and outs of the White House after hanging out with Mike and the rest of the security detail.
He’s set up as a character akin to Eric Shea’s in “The Poseidon Adventure,” and we figure he’ll outfox the bad guys and maybe even help save the day, but no — he’s found by Mike and rescued in fairly short order.
Of course, this is a movie where national monuments are blown up and soldiers and innocent civilians get killed by bullets and debris as though 9/11 never happened, so it’s no surprise that so much of the movie feels like it was chucked onto the screen without much forethought.
“Olympus Has Fallen” ranks among the best movies that Butler has ever made, but that’s damning with faint praise. He occasionally slips into his native Scottish brogue, and no one apparently felt like ADR-ing over it. (Another minor mistake that no one bothered to fix was the TV news lower-third that reads, “Terrorist [sic] Attack The Whitehouse [sic].”)
There are tons of talented actors slumming here, including Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser and Dylan McDermott, but they’re not called upon to do much. (Many of them spend the film literally phoning it in, or at least shouting into a walkie-talkie.)
Yes, you’ll guess who the secret turncoat is within the first five minutes of the movie, and you’ll roll your eyes over some of the script’s lazier ideas and moments of “America, F—k Yeah!” jingoism. But you won’t be bored by “Olympus Has Fallen,” and if you’re in the mood for some trashy adventure, the movie makes up in adrenaline what it lacks in brains.