(US - 2013)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Ashley Judd, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Keong Sim, Malana Lea, Phil Austin, Sean O'Bryan. (R, 120 mins)
When the trailer for OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN started making the rounds a couple of months ago, with its seemingly intentionally bad visual effects and dialogue like "I'm the best hope you've got!," "America does not negotiate with terrorists!" and "They've opened the gates of Hell!," one could be forgiven for assuming that a bunch of big-name actors agreed to take part in a fake trailer mocking big-budget, overblown, jingoistic, flag-waving, "America! Fuck Yeah!", porn-for-red-states action explosion epics. But no...OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is a real movie with real actors. And what's most surprising, other than it's not nearly as terrible as that trailer made it look, is that the actors lured by fat paychecks actually seem to be taking it seriously, as if this is the first film of its kind and they're really doing something groundbreaking. The outrageously overqualified cast is pretty much all this has going for it. They're the reason this thing cost $80 million and still looks like a shot-in-South Africa, straight-to-video Frank Zagarino flick directed by Sam Firstenberg in 1996. Avi Lerner and his Cannon cover band Millennium/Nu Image may be able to somehow pull $80 million out of their asses several times a year despite most of their films going straight-to-DVD and the two EXPENDABLES films being their only recent hits, but true to their Golan-Globus heritage, they haven't been able to shed their B-movie skin despite Herculean efforts to do so. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their continued employment of the Bulgarian visual effects outfit Worldwide FX, whose trademark digital splatter and SyFy Channel-level CGI is showcased here in all its chintzy, D-grade glory. Rushed into production in true Cannon fashion to beat Roland Emmerich's upcoming and very similar WHITE HOUSE DOWN into theaters, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is fast-moving and brainlessly entertaining, but the extended CGI destruction of Washington, D.C. (itself CGI'd even before the mayhem, as the film was shot in Louisiana) that's displayed here would've looked subpar in the mid-1990s. No matter how many A-listers they manage to reel in, Millennium/Nu Image will never be a major player with these kinds of shit-ass visual effects and shoddy, blurry greenscreen work.
Freeman brings surprising humanity and gravitas to the Speaker of the House, a man who disagrees with the President but puts politics aside and demonstates humility and nervousness over the role he wasn't expecting to be playing when he woke up that morning. Considering the stock, one-dimensional characters in Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt's script, I'm sure this level of complexity was brought to the table by Freeman himself, and his scenes have some unexpected credibility to them. I particularly liked his initial anxiety when confronted with the situation and how he's stammering and indecisive and rapidly losing the confidence of everyone in the room when he dodges questions and instead asks someone for a cup of coffee, "with double cream and three Sweet & Lows...and put it in a real cup, not one of those styrofoam things," then closes his eyes, and something snaps in him and he's ready to take charge. It's just a little moment of real, human feeling in an otherwise dumb movie, and Freeman, pro that he is, totally sells it when all he really needed to do was show up.