OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (Rated R)
“Olympus Has Fallen” is not the first thriller in which a valiant Secret Service agent saves the life of the president, and in fact, another in the same genre, “White House Down,” is still to arrive this summer.
With director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) at the helm, this hardcore action picture so much has the distinctive feel of a “Die Hard” film that one can easily imagine a younger Bruce Willis as the hero.
Thus, a younger but no less gritty Gerard Butler is just right as ex-Special Forces tough guy Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent on the presidential detail until something goes horribly wrong.
Though Banning made the correct decision during a frightful accident, his failure to follow an order from President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) gets him demoted to a boring desk job at the Treasury Department.
Naturally, Banning wants back into his old job of protecting the president, and his chance to return to action soon comes under the most calamitous circumstance when terrorists take down the White House.
A small group of heavily-armed, carefully trained extremists launch a daring daylight ambush on the White House, overrunning the building and taking the president and key members of his staff hostage inside an impenetrable underground bunker.
Not coincidentally, the violent attack occurs during a state visit by the Prime Minister of South Korea. The terrorists are North Korean and they aim to turn America into an impoverished, malnourished nation much like their own forlorn homeland.
It’s an interesting topical subject, given the saber-rattling going on with North Korea’s recent nuclear threats and with that odious pint-sized creepy tyrant Kim Jong-un using the clueless Dennis Rodman as his propaganda stooge.
The evil mastermind of the dastardly plot is Kang (Rick Yune), a reptilian scumbag who gets a kick out of terrorizing his captives, routinely capping someone in the head just to make a point.
The resourceful Kang, whose identity was tightly concealed, somehow managed to penetrate the highest ranks of the South Korean delegation. Be aware that other traitors are in the midst as well.
The siege of the White House is so incredibly well orchestrated that the brutal onslaught has an air of realism, even if the body count is incredibly high and despite the fact the invaders have unbelievably advanced weaponry and defensive armor.
Nevertheless, even if the attack seems far-fetched, the assault is disturbingly inspired and frightfully alarming for the ease with which the plot is executed.
The North Koreans are coldly efficient as they apparently gun down every agent defending the president and cause more damage to the White House than the British during the War of 1812.
Among the captives in the underground bunker are the tough Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo), an admiral and the vice president, who is here nondescript and soon to be forgotten, like Alben W. Barkley or John Nance Garner.
Kang’s mission is to force the United States to retreat from the Korean DMZ and to withdraw the Navy’s 7th Fleet from the Pacific. Oh, and he wants the nuclear launch codes, and to get this, he is willing to torture and kill.
Meanwhile, Banning turns into a one-man assault team, penetrating the White House, which he happens to know very well, to engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Kang’s thugs.
The disgraced Secret Service agent takes delight in taunting Kang, while a bunch of high-ranking government officials, including the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman), designated as the acting president, are forced to accept Banning as their eyes and ears on the ground.
But since this action picture is produced by Gerard Butler, we already know that his tough-as-nails action hero is not taking any prisoners and the fight against the enemy is fully engaged.
There’s plenty of suspense sustained throughout the two-hour running time, and yet one can be forgiven for getting anxious for Banning to dish out the expected revenge to the president’s captors.
“Olympus Has Fallen,” bloody, intense and violent, is a nice showcase for Gerard Butler’s action hero skills, and the rest of the talented cast performs just as agreeably.
In many respects, the thriller is formulaic and the action is barely distinguishable from numerous entries in the same genre. Still, there is immense gratification in Agent Banning’s merciless quest to rout the enemy.
DVD RELEASE UPDATE
The College of Cardinals, during the recent papal conclave, elected a new Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope. All signs point to Pope Vincent as a decent servant.
The same cannot be said for Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons), the cunning, manipulative patriarch of the Borgia family who ascends to the highest circles of power within Renaissance-era Rome.
With attention focused on the Vatican, it may be an odd bit of serendipity for the Showtime series “The Borgias” to get released on DVD now, but there you have it.
“The Borgias: The Second Season” finds Alexander enlisting his family to take an oath of revenge on the great noble houses that dared to stand against him, causing his Papacy to face political turmoil once again.
Pope Alexander VI soon realizes that his real problems lie with his children, all of whom are growing up and defying his authority.
Daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) forges an unlikely alliance to plot to battle Vatican corruption, while sibling rivalry between the sons turns dark and ugly.
It’s not likely there will be intrigue like this in Pope Vincent’s Vatican, but that’s why we have cable channels like Showtime.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.