Review: 'Olympus' is tense yet generic
This film image released by FilmDistrict shows, from left, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, Finley Jacobsen, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster in a scene from "Olympus Has Fallen." (AP Photo/FilmDistrict, Phil Caruso)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a week when North Korea posted a homemade video showing the U.S. Capitol building being destroyed by a missile, what more logical response could Hollywood offer than a macho thriller about a Secret Service agent who takes on North Korean terrorists who attack the White House? The first of two similarly themed action dramas set for this year ("White House Down" arrives in June), "Olympus Has Fallen" will put to the test the question of whether American audiences are ready, 12 years after 9-11, to watch, strictly as disposable popcorn entertainment, a film in which the United States and some of its most prominent landmarks are devastated by foreign terrorists.
The answer almost undoubtedly will be yes, as the tough-guy former agent played by Gerard Butler gets to kick a whole lot of badass butt while trying to rescue the president. Although this is the sort of film in which the fate of the world hinges, when all is said and done, on the outcome of a one-on-one martial arts contest, director Antoine Fuqua's notably bloody child of Die Hard still generates a fair amount of tension and produces the kind of nationalistic outrage that rock-ribbed Americans will feel in their guts. Foreign revenue should be hefty as well, especially in countries where many viewers will get a thrill watching Washington get the sort of treatment usually reserved for places like Baghdad and Kabul.
This film image released by FilmDistrict shows Gerard Butler in a scene from "Olympus Has Fallen." (AP Photo/FilmDistrict, Phil Caruso)
Either due to incredible clairvoyance on the parts of first-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt or just through one of those twists of fate, the film arrives just as North Korea has made anti-U.S. saber-rattling an almost daily exercise. So it seems uncannily timely that the brilliant bad guy here is a (supposedly) rogue North Korean who leads a bunch of skilled commandos on a raid of the White House that nets them the president and several key members of his staff as hostages. No doubt bootleg copies of the film will make their way to Kim Jong Un, who might be simultaneously offended and delighted at the opportunity to further rouse his subjects by showing them how much the enemy hates them.
At its core, however, "Olympus" is like an '80s or '90s genre item in which Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson outwitted and outmuscled shrewd, more formidably armed opponents. Like Eastwood in "In the Line of Fire," Butler (who also produced) plays a disgraced presidential agent sidelined and haunted by a fluky failure (detailed in a 10-minute prologue) who suddenly and inadvertently finds himself back in the thick of a crisis.