With tensions boiling over in the East, the US President (Eckhart) welcomes a group of Koreans to the White House. Bad plan. With extremists running amok in the Oval Office, can a disgraced Secret Service agent (Butler) avert disaster?
Mere weeks after being befouled by Jonathan Pryce in GI Joe: Retaliation, 1600 Penn has an even worse day in the aggressively dumb Olympus Has Fallen. The first of two 2013 movies presumably pitched as “Die Hard in DC” or “Air Force One on land” (Roland Emmerich’s White House Down kicks Potamac later this year), this one comes courtesy of Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. So for this type of film it’s surprisingly hard-edged: one scene sees Melissa Leo kicked hard in the stomach, while (unlike any of Emmerich’s films) a sequence with a dog ends badly for the mutt. The shame is, it’s sloppily constructed and short on fun.
A rushed production schedule, designed to get the film into cinemas before its bigger-budget rival, could be blamed for some of the problems. The visual effects are frequently scruffy-looking, particularly during the many moments of skybound carnage. The action, while starting strongly with an intense extended assault on the White House lawn, degenerates into dimly lit grappling in Presidential corridors. And the props department must have been in a hurry, too: all the coffee mugs in the Pentagon briefing room bear the words “The Pentagon”. But the real issues lie in the screenplay, from first-timers Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger, which grinds from one hokey beat to the next.
Not only is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) a Xerox of the haunted hero from In The Line Of Fire, you’ll get 24 flashbacks when he starts barking questions at vanquished foes (and with Butler’s accent occasionally slipping into his native brogue, it really is a case of Jock Bauer). Besides a subplot involving his friendship with the tiresome First Child, and an odd running theme involving him knifing people in the head, the actor barely gets anything to do. Although he at least has a few memorable zingers, which is more than you can say for Morgan Freeman (whose big moment as the acting Prez is a speech about how he likes his coffee), Aaron Eckhart (who spends the run-time tied up) or Rick Yune (who can add another deranged-but-dull North Korean to his CV, after Die Another Day). Other characters are so lazily drawn that they’re introduced with subtitles explaining who they are.
There’s a decent film in here somewhere — the baddies are impressively savage and Fuqua manages to make the taking of the world’s securest building seem just about credible. But for every smart moment, there’s a cringy close-up of a US flag, or a flashback to something we saw on screen ten minutes ago, or a news report that spells White House as “Whitehouse”. Yes, that really happens. Twice.
A grippingly brutal first act and strong cast can't stop this turning into a Steven Seagal film well before the end. And the on-screen clock, pointlessly providing the time before every single scene, may drive you mad.