“Olympus Has Fallen” pushes all the right action-adventure buttons

Like his acting career, Gerard Butler’s work as a producer has been a mixed bag critically and commercially. “Olympus Has Fallen” is his sixth movie as a producer-star and of his four previous efforts, only one, “Law Abiding Citizen,” made a splash at the box office with $73 million. The other three, “Playing for Keeps,” “Chasing Mavericks” and “Machine Gun Preacher” fizzled, with the latter barely making $500,000.

“Olympus Has Fallen” did a healthy-for-springtime opening weekend take of $30 million, but with an $80 million price tag, it will have to stick around for a few weeks in theaters to make good before it starts hauling in the pay-TV, DVD-Blu Ray take.

Good word-of-mouth comments may help sustain “Olympus,” as it delivers in ways one would expect of an action thriller. Its director, Antoine Fuqua, has proven himself with other action movies as “Training Day,” “Shooter” and “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Butler, who has taken critical hits for his romantic comedy efforts, goes back to his basics in “Olympus,” throwing himself heartily into the hero role of Mike Banning. The screenplay by the duo of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, the latter a native of Iceland, is an impressive work for a debut, trying to be nothing more than a good vs. evil epic. This script also was polished enough to attract an impressive cast joining Butler: Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Radha Mitchell, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd and Cole Hauser, as well as two Oscar winners in Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo.

The plot taps into an anxiety that haunts a modern world — the compromise of national defense and breakdown of leadership in a time of crisis, initiated by a clever, deadly adversary.

“Olympus” opens with a prelude in which President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) and his wife Margaret (Judd) and son Conner (Finley Jacobsen) are being transported by vehicle in a snowstorm to a fund-raiser. The head of the Secret Service detail is Banning, efficient and cool, with a special bond to Conner. But a tragic accident occurs and Banning and his detail find themselves unable to save lives.

Eighteen months pass and Banning now has been relegated to a desk assignment at the Justice Department, for emotional reasons than any doubts about competence. Meanwhile, President Asher is about to host a meeting with the South Korea leader regarding more aggressive posturing by North Korea.

With the meeting in progress, Washington, D.C. is attacked from the air and on ground in a brutal assault —  disturbing scenes of mass violence but well executed and a superb display of special effects. For all its defenses, the White House is seized while the president with top cabinet members and the South Korean contingent flee to the bunker. Meanwhile, Banning seems to be the only person effective in gunning down some of the attackers and manages to slip unnoticed into the now smoldering and body-strewn White House.

Meanwhile, the president and group learn they have been set up, as the chief of the Korean security actually is a terrorist, Kang (Rick Yune), a cocky, vicious man surrounded by coldly efficient and deadly people. Confined to the bunker, the president and his people are taken hostage

“Olympus” offers the usual scenes of high government officials, with all the power and intelligence at their disposal, rendered ineffective. Freeman as Speaker of the House Trumbull offers calm as the acting president while Forster is the typical military official, Gen. Edward Clegg, naturally overconfident in his assessment of the U.S. capabilities in ending this hostage crisis. Bassett as Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs is assigned to tell the bigwigs that Banning, once he links up communications with the brain trust and informs them he is in the White House, is the best they can hope for in this potentially disastrous event.

Naturally, demands are made by Kang while President Asher and his people try to maintain rigid resistance despite being overwhelmingly at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, Banning, barely armed but well trained and knowledgeable of inner workings of White House technology, begins picking off the bad guys.

“Olympus” does have its implausible details, such as how a well-trained unit of terrorists, packing so much hardware, could have gone undetected by a worldwide network of intelligence until this attack. There is also a vicious beating of Leo, who plays Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, an act that just adds layers to the villainy of Kang, making one root even more for his demise.

Although fast-paced, “Olympus” does take pauses for some character development, particularly with the pivotal characters of Banning and Asher. The president is shown as a devoted father having to shuffle the enormous responsibilities of the office with being a parent and dealing with tragedy. Banning is seen as a soldier forced into world he finds too tranquil for his talents, distracted to the point of risking the stability of his marriage to an ER nurse, Leah (Mitchell).

Per usual in these action movies, the conclusion is pretty much a given. The mystery is how much of a punch it will pack. “Olympus” provides enough to get a positive audience response.

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