By Roger Moore
For those who thought the last Bruce Willis movie was a little light on the casualty list, “Olympus Has Fallen” arrives toting the biggest body count since “Die Hard II.”
Bystanders and tourists, soldiers, cops and Secret Service agents fall by the score in a movie about the unthinkable — a terrorist ground assault on Washington, D.C.
This is “Die Hard in the White House,” with Gerard Butler manfully manning up as Mike Banning, the lone Secret Service Agent survivor after terrorists take over the White House and seize the president and most of the cabinet.
Not without a fight, of course. This president (Aaron Eckhart) boxes. And wait’ll you see the presidential head-butt.
Banning is the only guy who can get to the fortified presidential bunker where the hostages are. He proceeds to stab, shoot and strangle his way through legions of terrorists, quipping in his updates as he shows off his trophies, by phone, to the rest of the government, which can only ask “Is he alive?” about Mike’s latest catch.
But there’s pathos here, amid the carnage. A good cast (Melissa Leo is a feisty secretary of Defense) does what it can with a tin-eared script, making us care who lives and who dies. As an interesting side story, Mike’s wife (Radha Mitchell) is a nurse who deals with the carnage of America’s darkest day in an overwhelmed hospital emergency room.
Better thrillers make more of the whole shaky state of command in such calamities, wavering over terrorist demands, stringing out the suspense and playing up the clock ticking down toward whatever nuclear doomsday awaits should our hero fail. Director Antoine Fuqua (“Shooter”) is plainly dealing with a script that shortchanges all that, and he’s not good enough to overcome it.
For all the bursts of blood, the gunplay and execution-style head-shots that punctuate scores of deaths, it’s hard to see “Olympus Has Fallen” (that’s Secret Service code) as much more than another movie manifestation of a first-person shooter video game.
We’ve become a head-shot nation, and our thrillers are the poorer for it.