Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Basset, Rick Yune, Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Ashley Judd. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. (2013, 120 min).
Since it was payday, I invited my wife out to the movies.
"What's playing?" she asked.
"Olympus Has Fallen," I replied. "That movie with Gerard Butler about terrorists in the White House. Looks like a Die Hard thing."
"What else is playing?"
"Uh...Olympus Has Fallen. I wanna watch shit explode."
I get less adventurous as I get older. I don’t roll the dice with my discretionary income like I used to. This exasperates my wife on occasion, especially during those rare times when the stars align and we’re able to enjoy a night on the town without the kids. She likes to try new restaurants with foreign cuisine. I, on the other hand, have problems with shelling out a C-note for a dining experience which has a 50% chance of sucking. Whenever the decision is left to me, we usually end up at Red Robin or the Chinese joint down the road from our house (about as close to foreign cuisine as I like to get), because at least I know what's gonna end up on my plate.
And as much as I hate to admit this, I've developed the same attitude when it comes to going to movies. Back in the day, I took chances on all kinds of stuff...character dramas, independent films, comedies, horror flicks, etc. But as I get older and movie-going gets more expensive, not only do I not go as often as I used to, I'm less willing to gamble with my hard-earned income. There's nothing worse than spending fifty bucks for two tickets, a tub of popcorn and a couple of drinks to sit through a comedy that isn't funny, a horror movie that isn't scary or a critical darling where you leave the theater wondering if said-critics had been drinking Drano (and it goes without saying none of the art-houses downtown have gotten my business for a long time).
So most movies we choose to see are just like the Bleu Ribbon Burger I order every time at Red Robin...safe bets which pay off more often than not. That list of safe bets is pretty short:
- James Bond
- Anything with Pixar above the title
- Quentin Tarantino movies
- Superhero stories (mainly because Francie loves them)
- Disaster movies
- Sequels to something we loved the first time (though we do occasionally get burned on those)
- Die Hard clones
Regarding that last thing on the list, you know the formula: an arrogant & super-intelligent terrorist/criminal/disgruntled employee and his henchmen lay siege upon a skyscraper/boat/train/city and threaten large-scale destructive wrath unless their demands aren't met. It's up to ONE MAN (disgraced agent/troubled cop/Navy Seal) who just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time, to not only rescue his wife/buddy/family/President/beloved housepet, but single-handedly kill every single bad guy. Along the way are big, loud scenes of massive & fiery destruction which go a long way in masking any plot holes.
All this started with 1988's Die Hard, pretty much the Star Wars of action movies. It's been ripped-off and imitated so many times ever since that the term "Die Hard on a..." is practically its own genre. Speed 2 notwithstanding, it is a hard concept to fuck-up (hell, I even enjoyed Jean Claude Van Damme's Sudden Death).
"Are you ready for the cinnamon challenge?"
- Ultra-skilled-yet-troubled hero...check
- Personal friend of said-hero in need of rescue...check
- Arrogant super-villain who ultimately over-estimates his own intelligence...check
- Impenetrable fortress penetrated...check
- The computer genius who works for the villain and is able to totally take control of everything with a few hits to the keyboard...check
- That character who initially appears to be on the up-and-up, but is actually working for the bad guys...check
- Needlessly-stupid supporting characters whose actions are wrong-headed even to the dumbest guy in the audience...check
- The disastrous result of that same needlessly-stupid character’s attempt to end the crisis quickly...check
- Climactic hand-to-hand-combat showdown between the hero and villain (the latter of whom thinks he’s still winning even though his plans have been thwarted)...check
- Scenes of massive, gratuitous destruction...check, check & check
That being said, I suppose there are two unexpected surprises to be found in Olympus Has Fallen. First, it is extraordinarily violent even by Die Hard standards. Second, it may be the most blatantly-jingoistic movie since Air Force One. It practically wraps itself in the Stars & Stripes and screams “AMERICA!!!!!”. This is the kind of movie Fox News would view as a speculative documentary, and guys like Bill O’Reilly pop into their DVD player when they feel like masturbating.
As Die Hard clones go, Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t offer a single surprise or twist that a fan of the genre won’t see coming a mile away, but that is actually its greatest virtue. It knows the formula and milks it better than any similar movie since The Rock, doing so with a lot of panache. Like riding the same roller coaster at an amusement park countless times, or when I order the same hamburger every time I go to Red Robin, we know what’s coming, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. This movie delivers exactly what you expect...cinematic comfort food.