The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 29, 2013

Benji Tunnell: 'Olympus' a tribute to '80s action movies

JOPLIN, Mo. — "Die Hard," what hath thou wrought?

The original film seemed so innovative. Confine a lone hero to a defined space, have him fight off the baddies, give him the love of a woman (possibly estranged) to fight for, throw in a climactic battle with an arch villain, bake and serve. It made for a highly entertaining movie and spawned many sequels and clones, a lot of which were pretty good.

There was "Die Hard on a Boat" ("Under Siege"), "Die Hard on a Bus" ("Speed"), "Die Hard on a Plane" ("Passenger 57"), "Die Hard with a Kid" ("Home Alone"), "Die Hard back on a Plane" ("Air Force One"), "Die Hard on Yet Another Plane" ("Con Air") ... come to think of it, it looks like they were recycling even the clones.

Then there were the bad ones, such as "Die Hard in a Hockey Rink" ("Sudden Death"), "Die Hard on Another Boat" ("Speed 2"), "Die Hard in a Tunnel" ("Daylight"), and "Die Hard with a Geriatric" ("A Good Day to Die Hard"). If you want to make an argument for a dearth of originality in Hollywood, you need look no further than the aftermath of Bruce Willis' greatest vehicle.

The main thing these films, both good and bad, have in common is that they require a healthy suspension of disbelief. They ask us to believe that Steven Segal could work as a cook without consuming the entirety of the kitchen, or that Keanu Reeves could be a cop, or that the McAllisters wouldn't be arrested for child abandonment.

So, when someone tells you that the premise of the latest "Die Hard" knockoff involves what appears to be the entire North Korean army standing directly outside the White House gates ready to take over the building in a matter of 13 minutes, how you choose to react to this bit of information will reflect how much enjoyment you will take from "Olympus Has Fallen."

 After a freak accident kills first lady Ashley Judd (thus depriving so many "Kiss the Girls" fans of a long-sought on-screen reunion with Morgan Freeman), Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself reassigned from presidential duty to working for the Treasury Department.

When a South Korean delegation is meeting with the president in the White House, a lone plane flies over Washington, shooting down two jets sent to get it out of the no-fly zone, then strafing half of D.C. with high-powered guns. Using the plane as a distraction, about 15,000 Korean tourists drop their cameras, blow the gates off the White House and, within a matter of minutes, have captured the building as well as the president and his staff.  

It is up to Banning, who is apparently the only competent agent in Washington, to infiltrate the White House and begin taking out those pesky terrorists. If you're still with me, then this might just be a film you'll enjoy.

 While the president and vice president are held hostage, Morgan Freeman becomes acting president, proving himself to already be far more presidential than Aaron Eckhart, who plays President Asher.

Freeman is faced with the tough task of either letting his leader die or going against the long-standing U.S. policy of never negotiating with terrorists. He gets around this by not actually negotiating with the terrorists, but by capitulating to every demand made.

Thus, Banning must defeat a small army single-handedly, rescue the president, defeat the evil and accentless head of the terrorist plot and save the president's kid before deactivating the program that has been set to self-destruct the country's entire arsenal of nuclear weapons Ñ all of which happens before Freeman succeeds in pulling troops from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and recalling the U.S. Navy fleet that patrols the waters.

 The entire film is ludicrous beyond belief. It's nearly two hours of absurdity and impossibility. It is a tough task, but if you are able to do it, there is a bit of enjoyment to be had in this over-the-top movie.

 Butler, who could best be described as a sentient side of beef, long ago sacrificed the goodwill generated by his role in "300." But when Butler signs on to a mindless action flick where he is merely asked to shoot, punch, stab or break the necks of various baddies, he can handle himself quite well.

He may not have the charisma or charm of a Bruce Willis (You cannot smash the head of a North Korean bad guy using the bust of Abraham Lincoln without saying a pithy line like "Emancipate this!"), but he is more than able to bust heads, as long as he isn't asked to emote. His acting certainly is lacking, and the way his Scottish accent continued to slip out throughout the film will have you questioning exactly how stringent the Secret Service is in its hiring process. But he's certainly on the Stallone or Schwarzenneger level of action stars today.  

 I'm not trying to argue that "Olympus" is a good film, by any means. Its premise is absurd, the special effects can be lacking at times (apparently when planes are shot down they have cartoon flames on the wings), Xerox could probably have gotten a script credit for the plot and, though it sprinkles jokes in here and there, it relies heavily on bloodshed and death to compensate for the rest of its shortcomings.

But the fact is that, much like many of the great action films of the '80s and early '90s, if you can shut your brain off for two hours, there is a lot of fun to be had.

"Olympus" ends up being a better "Die Hard" sequel than the last "Die Hard" sequel. If seen as an homage to the glory days of action rather than a film to be taken seriously, it is actually pretty fun. Just don't think too much about it when it's over.

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