[Screen It]

(2013) (Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart) (R)

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Action: A demoted Secret Service agent tries to save the President, others and the country when terrorists storm and take over the White House.
Mike Banning (GERARD BUTLER) is a Secret Service agent tasked with directly protecting President Benjamin Asher (AARON ECKHART), his wife Margaret (ASHLEY JUDD) and their young son, Connor (FINLEY JACOBSEN). He has a close personal relationship with them, but that's damaged when a snowy nighttime car accident results in Margaret's death.

With 18 months passing and the President still unable to see Mike due to that bringing up bad memories of that fateful night, the agent has been reassigned to desk duty in the nearby Treasury Department building. He longs for his old job, something not lost on his ER doctor wife, Leah (RADHA MITCHELL) or Mike's old boss, Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (ANGELA BASSETT).

He unexpectedly gets the chance to redeem himself when some North Korean radicals suddenly attack the White House with massive brute force, breach the grounds and kill nearly everyone in sight. The President, Vice President Charlie Rodriguez (PHIL AUSTIN), Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (MELISSA LEO) and others are whisked to a secure underground bunker along with the visiting South Korean Prime Minister and his security detail. Little do they know the latter are in cahoots with the terrorists and soon all are taken hostage by the leader, Kang (RICK YUNE), and his turncoat insider, former Secret Service agent Dave Forbes (DYLAN McDERMOTT).

With Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (MORGAN FREEMAN) now serving as acting President, he, Lynn and the military brass of the Pentagon try to figure out what to do, all while Mike -- who tried to help repel the invaders -- is now their lone man inside the White House. As Kang attempts to extract three coded numbers for a secret program that could result in America's nuclear warheads being detonated in their silos, Mike ends up killing a lot of terrorists as he tries to find and rescue the President.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Back in the summer of 1988, I was a bit more than a year into working for the U.S. Senate in the bowels of the Capitol while still holding onto my dream of one day becoming a professional screenwriter. My coworkers knew of my plans and heard plenty of story and character development updates and thus weren't terribly surprised when a new idea sprung forth from my fertile young imagination.

What if, I proposed, terrorists took over the U.S. Capitol building and a visiting cop -- there on vacation with his family -- ended up being the lone soul on the loose, capable of stymieing them and saving his family? To many, that sounded a lot of like director John McTiernan's "Die Hard" released that very summer. Of course, it was my thought of a sequel to that stellar action flick, but due to a competing interest with a time travel script further along in development, it was shelved.

A few years later, "Die Hard 2" was released, and I wasn't terribly off the mark, at least in terms of geography as that tale took place at Dulles Airport, less than thirty miles away. But it was an unpleasant pic compared to the fun of the original and thus I lost interest in any further work on the script. Turns out I should have just waited a few more decades, moved the setting to the White House, and I could have been golden.

And that's because we have not one but two big budget films with that very premise opening this year. The second, "White House Down" with Channing Tatum playing a Secret Service agent who must save the president (Jamie Foxx) after a paramilitary group takes over the White House, is set to be released in the middle of the summer.

First up, however, is "Olympus Has Fallen" where a demoted Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) must save the President (Aaron Eckhart) when a rogue foreign paramilitary group takes control of the same building. Hmmm. Methinks the same idea was pitched to various studious a few years back and two of them then raced to get their version to the big screen first. The winner (critically and in terms of final box office returns) is yet to be determined, but there's little doubt both films owe their heritage to that 1988 predecessor.

In fact, this version -- penned by screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt -- feels perhaps a bit too similar for comfort, although it pales in comparison to the far better and more enjoyable Bruce Willis movie. Having accidentally stumbled upon that earlier version of recent after attending a press screening for this entry, that point is only driven home even harder.

Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") is certainly a capable helmer and there are some decent action sequences present here, even if the credibility factor is stretched thinner than current Democrat and Republican relations. But Fuqua is no match for McTiernan in the latter's prime (when he also directed "Predator" and "The Hunt For Red October" over just a several year span) and thus we end up with lots of visceral mayhem but without the heart or much any semblance of decent comic relief.

It certainly doesn't help that there's no Beethoven on the soundtrack (Ludwig van's Ninth Symphony was something of a character of its own in the first "DH" pic), that Butler is no Bruce Willis in such a role (although he's decent enough for what's required of him), or that certain scenes too closely resemble similar ones from that predecessor (namely a helicopter rescue sequence as well as another where the protagonist presumably doesn't realize a person he's run into is really a bad guy, although we already know that).

And most people forget that the underlying yet overriding gist of the Willis flick was all about the cop getting his estranged wife back, with all of the terrorist stuff just being a minor inconvenience along the way. Thus, there was something deeper to the movie than just the bang-bang, hide and out-wit the bad guys related material that plays out here.

That said, I was certainly never bored and did get caught up to one degree or another with some of the action sequences. Unlike the similarly themed "Air Force One," Eckhart's President character isn't given much of a chance to do anything, while Morgan Freeman gets to be temporary Commander-in-Chief when things go amiss (and he's once again tasked with the pending end of the world, although this time it could be via nukes rather than a big interstellar rock headed this way). Alas, Rick Yune and his antagonistic character clearly aren't in the same villainous league as Alan Rickman and Hans Gruber, arguably one of the best movie villains ever created. And as I've said countless time before, a hero is only as good as the villain.

If you throw out that, the "Die Hard" similarities, the credibility issues, and the lack of humor, wit and yes, even warmth, the film is an okay diversion for adults. And if you're looking for a "Let's save the President movie," you could do far worse than this while waiting to see how the next such film will play this summer. "Olympus Has Fallen" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 14, 2013 / Posted March 22, 2013

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