There’s a difference between stupid and dumb. A stupid movie just takes your money and wastes your time. It’s a business plan on a big screen. But a dumb movie can be triumphant, even transcendent in its joyful idiocy.
Olympus Has Fallen is such a film. It does Die Hard better than Die Hard and is the definition of a guilty pleasure. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and seemingly scripted by The Three Stooges, it is big and dumb and more fun than a barrel of Bruce Willises.
How great is it? When you leave, you actually like Gerard Butler again. All the stupid rom coms, plus whatever the hell Chasing Mavericks was supposed to be, are forgiven. Traditionally this degree of career rehabilitation could be achieved solely through absolution by Oprah.
He plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, a onetime member of President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) security detail, banished to a desk job so the commander in grief won’t be reminded daily of a personal tragedy his bodyguard was unable to prevent.
The agent gets his shot at redemption when All Hell Breaks Loose in the Capital. Literally. One hundred percent of the available hell. And part of what makes the mayhem so entertaining is the way the filmmaker doesn’t even bother pretending it’s not 100% preposterous.
Among the things that could never happen except in a dumb action thriller: A plane suddenly descends from the clouds above DC and proceeds to shoot down Air Force fighter jets, strafe stampeding citizens and obliterate computer generated tourist attractions. The slo-mo crumbling of the Washington Monument uncomfortably mirrors images from 9/11. Too soon? Not for Fuqua.
Outside the White House, a busload of armed foreigners await a signal. Inside, the president and his staff greet a delegation from South Korea, a motley crew which appears to have gotten fashion tips from a Colombian drug lord. They don’t give off diplomatic vibes so we barely blink when the bad guys rush from the bus to storm the place and the visitors from South Korea reveal themselves to be North Korean terrorists on a mission to destroy the USA. Step one: Take the president and a gaggle of cabinet members hostage.
I’ll reveal no more about their evil plan except that the head terrorist is a humorless fanatic played by Rick Yune, a former model who played a humorless fanatic in Die Another Day. Which was probably good training for the part, though I doubt it prepared him for the unchivalrous can of whoop-a*s the role requires him to open up on Secretary of Defense Melissa Leo.
It’s weird. The guy blows up half of Washington but it’s watching him kick her around like a rag doll that really makes us eager for the climactic death match between him and the movie’s hero. That didn’t count as a spoiler, right?
With Dennis Rodman nowhere to be found, it falls to Banning to deal with the North Koreans and he does so with just the proper blend of snark and carnage. The odds are laughable but, hey, this isn’t math class. It’s a retro exercise in jingoism arriving at an opportune historical moment.
We love seeing terrorists get what they deserve as much as ever but have lost our appetite for large scale military intervention so the national mood is ripe for a good old fashioned one man war (even if a Scotsman happens to be standing in for a butt-kicking American standing in for the viewer). It’s a thing of totally bonkers beauty, the height of schlock and awe.
Or at least I think it is. We won’t know for sure until June when Channing Tatum stands in for Butler and does the whole thing all over again in Roland Emmerich’s White House Down.