The “money shot” in Roland Emmerich’s alien-invasion movie “Independence Day” — the moment displayed in the film’s trailer that told everyone they just had to see this movie back in 1996 — came when the White House blew up.
A new action movie from director Antoine Fuqua, “Olympus Has Fallen,” extends that shot for nearly the entire movie.
For the film fancifully images that North Korean commandos invade the president’s house, take him hostage and pretty much turn the place into what is known in real estate as a tear-down.
Ah-hah, but one lone Secret Service man, a “disgraced” one at that, our man Gerald Butler, knows all the WH passageways, wall safes and secret codes to out-maneuver these wily new Yellow Peril villains lead by Rick Yune, essentially revisiting his role from the Bond movie “Die Another Day.”
Let’s credit the movie with one thing if nothing else: The married and debuting screenwriters, Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, certainly nailed the right villains for this time in history when that outlaw country, under new, immature and untried leadership, is acting more bellicose with each passing day.
Their portrayal of North Korean guerrilla capabilities, beginning with a prop plane — a prop plane? — invading White House airspace with, mysteriously, more combat abilities than our best jets, grows increasingly absurd with each passing minute.
More lamentable is the fading glory of the film’s director, who once gave some of us hope with gritty thrillers such as “The Replacement Killers,” his debut film no less, and “Training Day.”
Now he’s grinding out impersonal and virtually worthless actioners of mind-numbing predictability such as “Brooklyn’s Finest” and this film.
Splendid actors are more than willing to sign up for them too: Angela Bassett as the Secret Service’s head, Robert Forster as the Pentagon’s top guy, Ashley Judd for a role that required maybe two days filming and Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House who — okay, U.S. Constitution students, you know how this goes — becomes the acting president when the prez and VP can’t show up for work.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, Freeman acts more presidential and charismatic than the actor hired to play the president, Aaron Eckhart, who is his usual stiff and uninvolving self.
So what matters here?
The explosions and CGI effects? The stunts? The tortures and murders? The moral blankness of a film that cheers the rescue of a president’s adolescent son as he escapes over the dead bodies of about 100, or maybe it’s 200, dead littering the White House?
It’s hard to isolate what one is rooting for here since you know the outcome even as the opening scenes take place.
Butler is a serviceable actor, who makes a lot of bad though gutsy choices — singing wretchedly in “Phantom of the Opera” and clowning around the dreary comedy “Playing for Keeps,” for instance.
But he inspires no real attachment from audiences in the manner a much younger Bruce Willis once did, who is the closest screen personality to Butler. There is something mechanical and perfunctory about him.
Butler has no real wit and is too earnest. The point to acting, Spencer Tracy or somebody once said, is to not let anyone catch you doing it. Gerald is doing it in front of you all the time.
The rest of the cast hits the marks but violate the Tracy (or somebody’s) mantra of not dumping the furniture. They are supposed to break furniture in these kind of films. And that too gets tiresome in a sudden hurry.
Flag-waving action movies such as “Olympus” are so empty of purpose, other than box-office glory, that they represent the new Hollywood cynicism: Let’s see if audiences will buy this garbage.
My money is on the garbage. Sadly.
Opens: March 22, 2013 (FilmDistrict)
Production companies: Millennium Films, Nu Image Films, West Coast Film Partners
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd, Rick Yune, Cole Hauser, Radha Mitchell, Finley Jacobsen, Robert Forster
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriters: Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
Producer: Alan Siegel, Ed Cathell III, Danny Lerner
Executive producer: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson
Director of photography: Conrad W. Hall
Production designer: Derek Hill
Music: Trevor Morris
Visual effects supervisor: Evan Jacobs
Costume designer: Doug Hall
Editor: John Refoua
R rating, 120 minutes