Thursday, March 10, 2016

In Theaters: LONDON HAS FALLEN (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Babak Najafi. Written by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedict, Christian Gudegast, and Chad St. John. Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Charlotte Riley, Colin Salmon, Waleed Zuaiter, Patrick Kennedy, Sean O'Bryan, Clarkson Guy Williams, Bryan Larkin. (R, 99 mins)

This sequel to 2013's OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN has a giant "America! Fuck yeah!" boner swelled to a degree the likes of which we haven't seen since the flag-waving RAMBO sequels and Chuck Norris action movies of the Reagan era. Playing out like what your conservative, Fox News-watching uncle imagines the war on terror to be, LONDON HAS FALLEN has a script that took four credited writers to assemble and may have even been given a final polish by Donald Trump, judging from shouted dialogue like "Just assume everybody is one of those terrorist assholes!" and "Why don't you boys pack up your shit and go back to Fuckheadistan?"  Like the first film, it's an acceptably dumb action time killer and yet another attempt to make Gerard Butler a thing, with the star and producer dropping endless action hero bon mots as Mike Banning, the top Secret Service agent to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Banning and his wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) are expecting their first child and he's just started his vacation and is considering resigning his detail when the President receives word that the British Prime Minister has died of a sudden heart attack following knee surgery. With all the world leaders and dignitaries converging on London for the funeral (of course, the establishing aerial shot of Big Ben, the London Eye ferris wheel, the Palace of Westminster, and the Westminster Bridge over the Thames is accompanied by the caption "London"), the time is right for a massive terrorist attack, which Banning's Spidey Sense naturally detects ("What's wrong?" he's asked, grunting "Nothin'...bugs the hell outta me"). Almost every landmark in London is blown up using what appears to be an explosion app on director Babak Najafi's phone, and when every world leader is killed except for the new PM and Asher, Banning and the President are on the run, pursued throughout London by the interchangeably swarthy, ISIS-like flunkies of Yemen-based terror mastermind Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul). Barkawi has spent two years planning this highly coordinated attack as revenge for a US military drone attack that took out his daughter on her wedding day and left one of his sons a double amputee. Banning manages to get Asher to an MI-6 safe house run by Agent Marshall (Charlotte Riley), who correctly assumes that someone in the British government is a mole working for Barkawi and that the Prime Minister was murdered.

One of the cheapest-looking $60 million films you'll ever see, LONDON HAS FALLEN has plenty of shoot 'em up action sequences that are fairly well-done, especially a few longer ones that try to go for the CHILDREN OF MEN-type set pieces. Najafi (who directed the Swedish crime thriller EASY MONEY II: HARD TO KILL and episodes of the Cinemax series BANSHEE) can't resist presenting Butler's Banning as a gun-toting, knife-wielding, indestructible smartass killing machine who resembles the John McClane of the later, terrible DIE HARD movies, a crack shot who can take out dozens upon dozens of terrorists who fire straight at him and somehow always miss. The bush-league CGI courtesy of Millennium's usual Bulgarian clown crew at Worldwide FX is just an embarrassment throughout, almost Asylum-level chintzy and frankly unacceptable for a major, nationwide theatrical release--it doesn't matter how many big stars Cannon cover band Millennium rope in or how much money they spend, their visual effects and CGI splatter have never progressed beyond their DTV inception in the '90s when Frank Zagarino was the biggest star they could afford. As incredible as it seems, Worldwide FX's craftsmanship is getting worse. Even with all the rampant xenophobia and over-the-top jingoism, the shitty effects are the most off-putting part of LONDON HAS FALLEN, unless you count Butler's incessant one-liners constantly clanging to the ground (on Asher's bad driving, Banning quips "The car's bulletproof, not politician-proof!" and when Asher, hiding in a closet in the safe house, storms out and blows a bad guy away, Banning snarks "I was wonderin' when you'd come out of the closet!"), the completely illogical plotting (Barkawi spends two years planning the attack at the funeral as if he knew that far in advance that the Prime Minister would need knee surgery) or the unfortunate wasting of a slumming and visibly bored supporting cast.


Several OLYMPUS alumni return for some easy paychecks and a visit to scenic Bulgaria at Millennium's renowned Nu Boyana backlot: Angela Bassett briefly returns as Lynne Jacobs (all of the characters get pointless name-caption intros), the director of the Secret Service and Morgan Freeman's Speaker of the House Trumbull has been promoted to VP, essentially serving the same function running the War Room, which looks like the backup conference room at the Sofia Holiday Inn. A sleepy-looking Freeman gets to pretty much be Morgan Freeman and gets a decent amount of screen time (he has one scene with Butler, but they obviously weren't there at the same time). Also returning are Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense and Robert Forster as the Joint Chiefs chair, and along with new addition Jackie Earle Haley as the White House Chief of Staff--three veteran, rock-solid character actors with four Oscar nominations and one win between them who have maybe a combined 100 words of dialogue as their sole purpose seems to be grimacing at the events in London being displayed on a giant monitor, though from the looks of it, they could just as easily be reacting to the CGI. Moving fast, with the credits rolling at 90 minutes and the new definition of "It is what it is," LONDON HAS FALLEN is a junk movie that nobody other than Butler's agent was really demanding but it at least knows to not overstay its welcome.

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