If Don Simpson hadn’t snorted himself to an early grave, he would have made Olympus Has Fallen. The logline “Die Hard in the White House” and dialogue pearls like, “Let’s play a game of fuck you. You go first.” are exactly the type of thing that made the producer who created the packaged blockbuster the definition of hookers and blow 80s Hollywood success. Olympus Has Fallen feels like such steroid-fueled action throwback that it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the screenplay has been floating around the studios for twenty years just waiting for the time to be right (or at least for enough time to pass after September 11th for cinematic terrorist attacks on American institutions to be fun again). Judged on any conventional level, this is a bad movie. However, if what you seek is a big stupid night at the movies this sucker will scratch that itch just right. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and while that might be a good thing overall, it’s nice to be reminded that stupid can still be fun and irony isn’t always a required ingredient in silly action stew.
Gerard Butler stars as an ex-secret service ball-buster who blames himself for the first lady’s death and is desperate for a shot at presidential redemption. Thankfully the character stars in a silly action movie, so he gets his chance when a renegade North Korean terrorist kidnaps the president (Aaron Eckhart), takes over the white house, destroys the Washington Monument and locks the president and his top advisors (including Melissa Leo, working harder for a Razzie than she campaigned for her Oscar) in a secret bunker under the White House. The good news is that means the speaker of the house is given command and he’s played by Morgan Freeman (along with Angela Bassett as the secret service director and Robert Forster as the active army general). The bad news is that the terrorists have America in a bind and want to force them to pull out their overseas troups to start World War 3. All seems lost, but fear not dear reader! For Gerard Butler is still in the White House along with a machine gun and an intercom that puts him in direct contact with Freeman and co. Now, he’s just going to have to go ahead and kick ass and take names, but he doesn’t have a pencil (which means he’s going to be kicking ass without taking names…there’s probably a better version of that line made to be delivered by a pro wrestler, right?).
You can probably guess where things will go from there and you’ll be right. What you won’t predict is just how absolutely ludicrous everything gets before reaching the only logical conclusion. This is the type of movie where the hero kills a bad guy with a bust of Lincoln and somehow the filmmakers don’t think that it will play like a gag. However, within seconds of the terrorist cell taking charge of the White House it’s as if the villains have also leaked laughing gas into the movie theater as part of their dastardly plot. Much like Taken 2, the folks behind Olympus Has Fallen clearly didn’t intend to make a comedy, but that’s what they’ve given us. The ra-ra patriotism and machine gun heroism at the center of the film are so ludicrously out of date that the movie plays like parody even though every one involved is treating the material super seriously. That creates big heaping stacks of camp comedy and endless violence that make the film a sheer joy to watch for those who remember a time when titans like Joel Silver, Don Simpson, and George Cosmatos once ruled Hollywood with a mighty fist. The entire casts acts their butts off trying to make us take it seriously and that only makes the proceedings feel that much sillier. Whenever Eckhart or Leo snarl their hard boiled lines at the villain or Gerard Butler drops a one liner, you can’t help but giggle and you won’t stop until the idiotic happy ending arrives.
The only major problem with Olympus Has Fallen as work of sublime stupidity was handing directing duties over to Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). The filmmaker knows how to pace a story and work with actors, but his visual style is fairly pedestrian and the film’s aesthetic can be summed up as a combination of shaky cam and cheap CGI. It works well enough, but for the film to claim full on trash classic status, it needed a director who could provide an equally over-the-top visual style to match the dumbo writing and screeching overacting contained in the frames.
It’s a tragedy Tony Scott didn’t live long enough to get his hands on the movie or that even the likes of Michael Bay, Neveldine/Taylor, or Joseph Kahn didn’t sign up instead. With a director who either understood the untapped comedy potential or at least someone who would bring his own brand of directorial ridiculousness to the table the movie really could have been something special for the ironic laughter sect. As it is, Olympus Has Fallen is still a solid dumb action romp made for drinking and heckling. The pressure is now on for 2013’s other White House Die Hard to be even sillier. With Roland Emmerich in charge of White House Down (actual title, not a play on this one) there’s a chance it could be topped, but somehow I feel like Olympus Has Fallen will be Hollywood’s peak of sublime stupidity this year. If you enjoy laughing at movies as much as laughing with them, it’s not to be missed. Watching the movie, you’ll start to wonder if Reagan is somehow in the oval office again.