Heavily armed terrorists seize control of a landmark building and only a lone maverick lawman can save the day. No, it’s not the Nakatomi Tower and Bruce Willis’s NYPD cop John McClane in Die Hard but the White House and Gerard Butler’s disgraced presidential bodyguard in Olympus Has Fallen…
As Hollywood action thrillers go, Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua’s new film is a blatant knock-off. The good news is that his Die Hard in the White House is vastly more entertaining – and thrilling – than A Good Day to Die Hard (the latest official Die Hard movie) and better, too, than a good many other recent B-movies with blockbuster budgets.
It helps that leading man Butler is in decent shape for carrying out muscular derring-do – even if he can’t match Willis when it comes to delivering sardonic quips. He plays secret service agent Mike Banning, who has been assigned to desk duty after failing to prevent a tragedy when a freak accident struck the president’s motorcade one wintry night.
Yet when a force of North Korean guerrillas launches an attack on the White House, a few years later, taking hostage President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and members of his cabinet and staff, Banning is the only one who can defeat the bad guys.
Butler and Fuqua handle the ensuing heroics with brute efficiency, but we’ve seen this kind of mano-a-mano mayhem too often before for anything here to take us by surprise. What is startling, though, is the preceding attack, a ferocious assault that demolishes half of Washington and most of the White House.
As bystanders get mown down, the Washington monument topples and the Stars and Stripes is shredded, the onslaught delivers a real taboo-busting frisson – though one that is due to be repeated this summer when Roland Emmerich unleashes similar carnage in the forthcoming White House Down.
Unfolding in real time for 15 minutes, the sequence would pack an even bigger punch if the CGI special effects – knocked out on the cheap in Bulgaria – weren’t quite so cheesy.
Where Olympus Has Fallen does show unexpected class, however, is in the ranks of its supporting cast. Heading the crisis team, Morgan Freeman’s House Speaker and Angela Bassett’s secret service boss exude the requisite authority, while, among the captives, Melissa Leo’s staunch secretary of defense remains bloody but unbowed alongside Eckhart’s rugged president. Their presence doesn’t elevate Olympus above B-movie status but they do add an extra fillip to the film’s guilty pleasures.
In cinemas from Wednesday 17th April.