'Olympus Has Fallen' falls short

In the action-drama-terrorist tale Olympus Has Fallen, an enemy aircraft, specifically a heavily armed and fortified C-130 transport plane, slips undetected into airspace over Washington, D.C. The plane is nearly on top of the White House before a pair of U.S. fighters intersect it.

The mighty American fighter jets are too little, too late, helpless against the mysterious intruder. And there’s more; while the C-130 mows down hundreds of civilians on the streets of D.C., terrorists stage a land attack on the White House. The combined air and ground assault is a total success.

Although it’s true that the United States was attacked with lethal force by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, the attack that takes place in Olympus Has Fallen requires an audience to exercise a huge degree of suspension of disbelief. Enemy aircraft over the nation’s capital? A North Korean assault team masquerading as an Asian tour group at the White House? Really?

But all of the above is an excuse, an avenue to get former Secret Service Agent Mike Banning back in the White House. Banning lost the job he loved, protecting the president, months before, following a devastating auto accident on a dark and icy bridge involving the first family.

Assigned desk duty at the U.S. Dept. of Treasury, Banning is bored and unhappy until he notices that all hell has broken loose in Washington. He springs into action-hero mode.

Twenty years and more ago, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford or Steven Seagal would have been cast as Banning. Scottish-born actor Gerard Butler takes over for the aging action stars in Olympus Has Fallen. He’s grim and one-note-determined enough for the part but sometimes his accent is showing.

Once the ridiculousness of the movie’s opening sequence passes, the story moves on to what it’s really about. Butler’s resourceful Banning, a guy with his personal redemption at stake, plays a mouse in the White House to the invading terrorists’ cruel and brutal cats.

Banning’s firsthand knowledge of the White House and its secrets make him the perfect man for the unexpected rescue mission. He sneaks through the darkened building while lead terrorist Kang makes the White House bunker a command center and holds the disabled commander in chief, the vice president, secretary of defense and others hostage.

Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, The Man with the Iron Fists), an American actor of Korean descent, co-stars as the ruthless Kang, a super-arrogant terrorist who can’t stop smiling.

Aaron Eckhart co-stars Benjamin Asher, a president who, unlike Bill Pullman’s fighter-pilot hero-president in Independence Day, has little to do other than grit his teeth and yank at his restraints.

Occupied as Olympus Has Fallen is with Banning and Kang’s chess game, it gives Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo little to do. Playing the brutally abused secretary of defense probably brought Leo a good paycheck but it’s a waste of her talent.

Morgan Freeman fares a little better as Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull. Nonetheless, playing the nation’s acting commander in chief must have been easy work for Freeman. Speaking his unfancy lines in his resonant, authoritative baritone and looking concerned is all that’s required of him.

A tediously serious orchestral score, images of a bullet-ridden American flag and a requisite congratulatory post-crisis ceremony also have a hallow ring. Olympus Has Fallen, shot in Bossier City and Shreveport, falls in a period between prime movie-going seasons and it shows.