You know an actor has a stake in a movie when he is listed as one of the producers. Indeed, Gerard Butler served as one of four producers on the slam-bang, high-octane, but derivative President-in-jeopardy thriller “Olympus Has Fallen” (**** OUT OF ****), featuring Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Aaron Eckhart, and Rick Yune. “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua and freshman scenarists Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt must have put their heads together and scrutinized the “Die Hard” movies, “Air Force One,” and “In the Line of Fire.” They’ve reconstituted the conventions of those classics as efficiently as the corpses pile up in this edge-of-the- seat nail-biter where nary a second of its two-hour running time is squandered. Furthermore, they’ve followed the lead of not only “Team America: World Police” but also the recent “Red Dawn” remake and cast the North Koreans as the villains. The impressively orchestrated aerial attack on Washington, D.C., alone is worth the price of admission. When he isn’t generating suspense and tension, Fuqua shows no qualms about depicting battlefield torture either by the villains or the hero. Subsequently, squeamish moviegoers might find the subject matter challenging in this violent melodrama. Our sympathetic but indestructible hero displays about as much compassion for the treacherous villains as they show for the scores of innocent bystanders that they kill with barrages of bullets and high explosives in this rambunctious R-rated actioneer. This is the kind of movie where the audience talks back to the screen. At least, several people were talking back to the screen where I saw it. They were either advising the hero or warning the villains. Interestingly, Fuqua and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall (son of Oscar winner Conrad L. Hall) lensed most of the White House scenes on location in Louisiana rather than in the nation’s capital. Mind you, we’ll have to bide our time until late June when “Independence Day” helmer Roland Emmerich’s similarly themed saga “White House Down,” co-starring Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, appears to know which of these white-knuckled, geopolitical, hostage epics will take top honors.
During this surprise attack, Banning manages to survive, but he is the only survivor. He learns from the acting President, Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman of “Driving Miss Daisy”), that the terrorists haven’t taken Connor as a hostage. Banning sets out to find Connor while avoiding detection from the terrorists who are busy fortifying the White House from intruders. Banning is clearly modeled on Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” hero John McClane, and he dispenses ruthlessly with the terrorists while he searches for Connor. Meantime, Kang wants the codes to our nuclear arsenal and he doesn’t mind shedding a lot of blood to get want he wants. When he isn’t trying to outfox the terrorists, Banning has to prove to Speaker Trumbull that he is America’s last line of defense. Pentagon General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster of “Jackie Brown”) argues with our hero every step of the way and demands that he stand down so that the Navy Seals can chopper in and take out the terrorists. What Clegg doesn’t know is that the wicked Kang has planned for virtually every contingency.