Movie review: 'Olympus Has Fallen' has the White House under fire

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Antoine Fuqua routinely casts manly men in his movies.

The Homewood native started with Chow Yun-Fat, moved on to Jamie Foxx, directed "Training Day" star Denzel Washington to his second Oscar and graduated to Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Wesley Snipes, Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and repeat star Ethan Hawke.

With "Olympus Has Fallen," Mr. Fuqua adds Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart to his roster and tackles nothing less than a takeover of the White House. This is no "Independence Day" with space aliens but an action thriller rooted in hyper-reality with Korean extremists as the main attackers.

Mr. Butler plays Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent (also ex-Special Forces) and sparring partner and pal to President Benjamin Asher (Mr. Eckhart). They mix it up in the boxing ring as the commander in chief jokes, "Hey, you're not supposed to hit the president."

'Olympus Has Fallen'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman.

  • Rating:

    R for strong violence and language throughout.

The playful rope-a-dope is nothing compared with what lies ahead as the president, first lady and their young son head out in a snowstorm from Camp David for a Christmas party. One of the cars in the motorcade plunges off an icy bridge, with devastating consequences.

When the action jumps ahead by 15 months, a dispirited Mike is working at the Treasury Department, which puts him out of the immediate line of fire but close enough when the White House becomes the scene of a bloodbath and hostage-taking.

A state visit is disrupted by a catastrophic attack, and the presidential bunker becomes not a refuge but a prison. Yes, Olympus -- code for the White House -- has fallen, and the only man who can save the nation and president might be Banning.

No sense being coy, it is Banning, and after his box-office duds "Playing for Keeps," "Chasing Mavericks" and "Machine Gun Preacher," the Scottish-born actor could use a role that fits him like a Tom Ford suit. Not to mention a hit.

"Olympus" opens a week after the Pentagon said it will spend $1 billion to further safeguard the Pacific Coast from North Korea's weapons. So although the premise is far-fetched -- a lot of improbable and dark dominoes have to fall to set this story into motion -- it's not as unimaginable as it might have been a decade ago.

At the same time, it taps into a Hollywood hot-button issue: violence. This is rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and you should take that seriously.

Even if the White House set and its surroundings were built in Louisiana, which is why everything seems a little off, there are car crashes, explosions, fires, attacks from the air and ground, the shearing off of landmarks, shocking executions and plenty of blood amid the nonstop action.

In addition to its virile leads, the cast includes Morgan Freeman as speaker of the House, Angela Bassett as head of the Secret Service, Melissa Leo as secretary of defense, Robert Forster as an American general, Rick Yune as a Korean visitor and Radha Mitchell as Banning's wife, who works in an ER.

Married couple Creighton Rothenberger and University of Pittsburgh graduate Katrin Benedikt wrote the screenplay, their first. They believe in all muscle and no fat (not as appealing as it sounds) but give Mike a chance at redemption although precious little backstory.

And if Mr. Butler's agent cannot save the nation, there's always Channing Tatum in the (West) wings.

He stars in "White House Down," scheduled to hit theaters June 28 and directed by Roland Emmerich, who coincidentally made "Independence Day." Mr. Tatum is a Capitol policeman who has been denied his dream job with the Secret Service of protecting the president (Jamie Foxx).

While he is taking his daughter on a tour of the White House, a paramilitary group strikes, and it's up to him to ... well, you know the dramatic drill.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published March 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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