Action thriller has fallen off success

By Kevin Cook

“Olympus Has Fallen,” the action thriller from Millennium Films about a North Korean attack on the White House, is a calamitous perfect storm of career-worst acting performances, pitiful screenwriting, lackluster direction and inept cinematography that, taken as a whole, somehow winds up amounting to even less than the sum of its weak, individual parts.

Much of what is unjustifiably horrible about this film is explained by the fact that Millennium hustled through writing, casting and pre-production, in a race to the box office with Sony Pictures. Sony currently has a similarly-themed movie slated for an early summer release — “White House Down” with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx — and given that the Sony joint has more than twice the budget of “Olympus,” it feels like every corner that could be cut here was.

The end result is that “Olympus” feels like a well-produced video game more than it does a movie. The film enthusiastically earns its R-rating, too. So many extras (so similarly proportioned and clothed they seem like the faceless, interchangeable sort of A.I. one would encounter in early first-person shooters) are mowed down by aerial gunfire or shot execution style that it first becomes tedious, then comical. The script gets plenty of mileage out of the f-word, to the point that the cast sounds more like a gang of eighth-grade boys in the back of a 7-Eleven than they do leaders of the free world. At one point, a tall, muscular, highly-trained enemy operative savagely beats and kicks a woman, the secretary of defense, while she screams for mercy. There is no shortage of moments in which the film gleefully underscores its brutality, but the ceaseless violence is so unrelenting and unimpressive that it loses all impact early on.

This movie is bad from top to bottom in every conceivable way but it starts with the script. First-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have turned in such a shoddy, hackneyed product that even a superlatively talented director, working with a dedicated, dialed-in cast of strong performers, would struggle to make anything valuable or exciting out of it. At one point, an antagonist screams at Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher, “What about globalization, huh? Wall Street?” Evidently, this is meant to explain what has driven the bad guy to evil. Eckhart mentions finishing an errand in time to catch Breaking Bad, which is the sort of momentarily relevant reference that will guarantee “Olympus” feels hopelessly dated in even five or six years. On the whole, at least half of the dialogue in the movie is cringe worthy.

Every moviegoer must, to some degree, suspend disbelief, and the most unbearable thing about the script is that it gives the audience nothing — not a shred of help — in making its world seem real or possible. The weapons system the North Korean villain intends to turn against America (code-named Cerberus after the Greek mythological guardian of Hades, prompting the line “He’s opened the gates of hell!” which I promise sounds even dumber than it reads) is so ludicrously implausible, it’s insulting. Why would any American scientist propose this, I wondered at multiple points. Why would this device even exist? And why would it do that, of all things? These are all valid questions.

The cinematography, inexpertly handled by Conrad W. Hall (of “Panic Room” and “The Punisher”), is heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery. Particularly during scenes involving damage to beloved Washington D.C. architectural icons, everything feels too smooth and clean and edgeless. Conversely, in the tight, dark corridors inside the White House, all the explosions and gunfights feel over-saturated and washed out, bordering on murky.

The acting is, at best, uninspired. Granted, there’s not much in the script for the actors, and the use of greenscreens throughout filming was reported to be extensive. Olympus, as a result, suffers from a less extreme version of the “new-Star-Wars-trilogy lifelessness.” In those movies, despite the state-of-the-art, lavish CGI environments gleaming away in the background, everything in the foreground felt flat and dull because the actors had to film in front of a greenscreen, often speaking their dialogue to a blank space, where there would later be a CGI character.

Even so, it’s not like the actors are really pouring their hearts and souls into these one-dimensional caricatures. Eckhart has said, “We’re so involved in (our leaders’) lives, so I didn’t have to go far.” And after the end of shooting on this film, when asked to reflect on his career, Eckhart said, “Now I’m looking to direct movies and produce my own movies. I think I could be more fulfilled if I become more involved in the movies that I do.”

It’s a telling statement, and it’s clear he is in no way engaged in this action vehicle. Morgan Freeman is along for the ride — or paycheck — but with the exception of a single, rousing line of dialogue, he has little responsibility and just as little impact.

Gerard Butler is a bland action hero. In “Olympus,” he has a moderate amount of swagger and machismo, his one-liners are mildly amusing, and his numerous, obligatory hand-to-hand combat scenes are passable. But for a movie that has literally nothing else going for it, he manages to seem eager for action, at least.

Ultimately, action is all this movie really strives to do. It’s all the more frustrating that Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus” fails even at that, with its too slick CGI sequences and dark, mottled underground battles. Given that the more big-budget, major-studio effort “White House Down” is following closely on “Olympus”’ heels, if you must see a jingoistic, patriot-porn, attack-on-our-soil action flick, opt for the former instead.

There’s no way it could be worse than “Olympus Has Fallen.”


  • Finally, someone that agrees with me. I told everyone that said they were going to see it, to make sure they checked their brain at the door, because to watch this movie you have to be brainless.

  • Well written. Probably won’t see it (and will see White House Down now). Still, I get the distaste for these sort of obvious cash grabs, but isn’t it already clear to the potential audience that this movie never had a chance of being Oscar-bait?

Leave a Comment