Characters advance into a barrage of virtual bullets, blowing away figures and advancing to new levels while comrades fall here and there like so much cannon fodder. Only the viewer is not a first-person shooter but rather a restive onlooker, caught up in an impersonal game that has a foregone outcome but no emotional stakes.
The movie is a sequel to a 2013 hit, “Olympus Has Fallen,” which imagined a takeover of the White House by North Korean terrorists and a U.S. president’s rescue by a disgraced Secret Service agent played by Gerard Butler.
The producers have dutifully recruited most of the same actors, moved the location to London and hit the Action button. As these things go, the new film, directed by Babak Najafi, an Iranian-born filmmaker who claims Swedish citizenship, is certainly superior to its predecessor, directed by Antoine Fuqua.
But that’s like comparing fertilizer to shit, a better refined product but still a stinker. What the attraction is to seeing London collapsing in a series of merciless explosions and world leaders assassinated like targets on a shooting range is better left to deep-thinkers in pop psychology.
In the current political atmosphere, where demagogues in the American political theater are pandering to the most xenophobic and jingoistic elements in U.S. society, “London Has Fallen” plays like a wish-fulfilling fantasy of righteous retribution against the Other.
The Other is foreign, cunning, homicidal, vile, amoral and worshipful of false gods. Rather than making the villain a Middle Eastern terrorist, however, the filmmakers have created an international arms dealer of Pakistani origins (played by Israeli actor Alon Moni Aboutboul).
Even though produced prior to the current presidential primaries, the film’s producers have all too correctly judged the prevalent rage against anything that reeks of the Other.
The movie is preposterous from first frame to last. It imagines world leaders showing up in London for the state funeral of a British prime minister at St. Paul’s only to realize too late they all walked into a fiendish trap.
Somehow Scotland Yard and the British military have been infiltrated to such a degree that half of the police force in Greater London are bad guys in disguise firing bullets, bombs and rockets at everything in sight.
(Did no one notice that good old Colin is now speaking with an Arab accent and Ian is now praying to Mecca several times a day? Guess not.)
It gets more absurd. As the funeral is about to get underway, the German chancellor is somehow standing with tourists gazing at Buckingham Palace, the Japanese prime minister is stuck in traffic on a bridge and the Italian prime minister is frolicking with his 30-year-old mistress on the roof of Westminster Abby.
(The latter is the only sign of wit in the entire movie but I truly believe it accidental. The movie is otherwise witless.)
Why is everyone so scattered? you ask. So assassination and explosions can happen at all these locations while the U.S. president (again played by the male mannikin Aaron Eckhart) is taking on bullets and an airborne vehicle on the steps of St. Paul’s.
Butler’s Secret Service agent Mike Banning gets him out of there, although not without injury of his boss, Secret Servicer director Jacobs (Angela Bassett), and loss of all communications to the White House (manned once again by Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo along with Morgan Freeman, elevated in the last movie to vice president).
Off the grid, Banning must escort the prey, block by block, around London’s eerily deserted, lock-downed nighttime streets and shuttered Underground stations, dodging an improbable number of bad guys with what you hope are good guys (a mole lurks within, of course) looking helplessly on via screen monitors in Whitehall and the White House.
Written by more people that can be listed in a brief film review, the movie works on a visceral level, presenting unsurmountable challenges which the hero bravely surmounts, all the while pining for his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) back home and snorting fire from inflamed nostrils.
Yes, laughable but maybe not. The film plays to a palpable paranoia growing more profound each day and shows no sign of any intelligence other than a craven desire for the box-office bottom-line.
Opens: March 4 (Gramercy Pictures)
Production companies: Millennium Films/G-BASE Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Sean O’Bryan, Charlotte Riley, Waleed F. Zuaiter
Director: Babak Najafi
Screenwriters: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John
Story by: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Based on characters created by: Creighton Rothenberg, Katrin Benedikt
Producers: Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Mark Gill, John Thompson, Matt O’Toole, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Christine Otal Crow, Heidi Jo Markel, Zygi Kamasa, Guy Avshalom
Director of photography: Ed Wild
Production designer: Joel Collins
Music: Trevor Morris
Senior visual effects supervisor: Sean Farrow
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editors: Paul Martin Smith, Michael Duthie
R rating, 99 minutes