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Published: Friday, March 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

'Olympus' falls short as 'Die Hard' in the White House

  • Aaron Eckhart (left) is the president of the United States, with (from left) Finley Jacobsen, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster in "Olympus Has F...

    Phil Caruso / FilmDistrict

    Aaron Eckhart (left) is the president of the United States, with (from left) Finley Jacobsen, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster in "Olympus Has Fallen."

  • Gerard Butler is a former Secret Service agent visiting the White House in "Olympus Has Fallen."

    Phil Caruso / FilmDistrict

    Gerard Butler is a former Secret Service agent visiting the White House in "Olympus Has Fallen."

There's a fun B-movie lurking somewhere inside the overblown mess of "Olympus Has Fallen," but it only comes out in fits and starts. This thing is so impressed with itself, it squeezes dry most of its popcorn-chewing possibilities.
Despite the title and the presence of Gerard Butler, it's not another "300" knock-off. Olympus, in this case, is the code name for the White House, which is stormed and occupied by North Korean terrorists one sunny afternoon.
Butler plays an ex-Secret Service agent who happens on the scene and becomes the lone rogue presence in the White House when the president is taken hostage in the secret bunker downstairs.
Did I hear someone say this sounds like "Die Hard" at the White House?
What, are you people cynical or something? For one thing, the movie has Gerard Butler, not Bruce Willis, so that changes the whole equation.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Brooklyn's Finest") brings his usual chokehold-to-the-throat style here, so everything's dank and gritty without seeming the least bit plausible. There's a good deal of firepower on display, including some rad new weapons -- but if you guessed that the climax might come down to our hero fighting hand-to-hand with the evil terrorist genius, you could possibly be correct.
The president is played by Aaron Eckhart, the Speaker of the House by Morgan Freeman and the First Lady by movie star and putative Kentucky senatorial candidate Ashley Judd. Now, given Freeman's usual position in movies, if anybody thinks he's going to remain sidelined during this crisis, forget it.
So there's plenty of machismo on display, and not just from the men, either. With Angela Bassett as the director of the Secret Service and Melissa Leo as the Secretary of State, we have lots of people in this movie who can make diamonds by clenching coal in their fists.
Melissa Leo, the Oscar-winner from "The Fighter," is closest to the B-movie spirit that sometimes glimmers out of this thing; when she goes for it, she goes for it. Gerard Butler is stalwart in the right moments and humorous in the right moments, and yet there's something missing here that reminds you how good Bruce Willis can be at this stuff when he's on his game.
There's some excitement to be had, if we indulge the movie's hard-R, carelessly violent approach. Around the time we're meant to believe that America's defense of South Korea can be wiped out a single hour after we begin the process of turning our Pacific Fleet around, you realize not much of this will be tainted by credibility.
If the premise sounds sure-fire, fear not: The second chief-executive-hostage picture, "White House Down," rolls into theaters in June.
And they say there are no new ideas.

"Olympus Has Fallen"
2.5 stars
The White House is attacked and the president (Aaron Eckhart) taken hostage; can ex-Secret Service agent Gerard Butler save the day, "Die Hard"-style? There's a fun B-movie stuck inside this overblown, violent mess, although the premise is so grabby it does have its moments. Decent cast, too, including Morgan Freeman.
Rated: R for violence, language.
Showing: Alderwood Seven, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.
Story tags » Movies

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