Angela Bassett

Olympus Has Fallen

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “straight up” action movie.  I don’t mean a superhero joint with good special effects.  I’m talking about a movie where a disastrous situation occurs and there’s only “one man for the job.”  In his latest effort, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest) harkens back to the 80s, a decade proliferated with Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis movies featuring a one man wrecking crew.

Fuqua pulls together several notable names in Olympus Has Fallen, an action-packed movie about a secret service agent who tries to save the White House (code name Olympus) after it is besieged by North Korean terrorists.  Gerard Butler (Playing For Keeps) stars as Mike Banning, an accomplished Secret Service agent who was recently reassigned from a prestigious position on the President’s detail to a much less exciting position at the Treasury Department.  The President is ably portrayed by Aaron Eckhart (The Rum Diary), even though there is no way he looks like a president.  In real life, a President has never appeared so young, fit, and handsome – no offense to JFK or President Obama.  Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Bassett (This Means War) round out the cast as the Speaker of the House and Secret Service Director, respectively.

The movie begins with a flashback to the incident that led to Banning’s reassignment.  I’ve always thought it was extremely important to begin and finish a movie on a strong note.  I think audiences are more tolerant of a lull in the middle of a movie if they feel invested up to that point.  Don’t let Butler’s recent romantic comedy leanings fool you.  Remember that he was King Leonidas in 300, and playing the tough guy hero is totally in his wheelhouse.  The actual White House takeover scene was breathtaking to watch, for a number of reasons.  Even if you’re not the patriotic type, there is something unnerving about seeing the White House obliterated.  I’m not xenophobic, but when I saw those North Koreans make Swiss cheese out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, my blood began to boil.  Go America!

The concept of the White House being taken over is a little far-fetched, but if it could ever conceivably happen I think Fuqua did a good job of showing us how it would transpire.  That being said, I don’t think the CIA is too concerned with anyone getting ideas after seeing this movie.  I’m not sure if the weapons technology depicted really exits, but the special effects were amazing.  Excessive killing in movies can be gratuitous, but here it was essential to the plot.  Freeman and Bassett didn’t break any new ground with their roles, but they served their purpose. As long as Butler was convincing as Banning, the movie worked.  Just as John McLane’s sole objective was to reclaim the Nakatomi Building, Mike Banning will stop at nothing to reclaim The White House.  If you like action, this throwback movie won’t disappoint.  Grade: B+

This Means War

I’m proud to be an American, but the quickest way to turn me off from something is to dub it “America’s fill-in-the-blank.”  For example, “America’s Team” would be the Dallas Cowboys.  Or maybe the New England Patriots.  Either way – I ain’t with it.  Similarly, we’re fond of calling people “America’s Sweetheart.”  I’m not a fan of the expression or what it represents.  Take “America’s Sweetheart,” Julia Roberts.  I’m over her; she doesn’t get a pass for mediocre movies or that obnoxious toothy laugh.  However, there is one notable exception to my disdain for all things patriotic.  Reese Witherspoon – one of America’s Sweethearts who doesn’t annoy me.  Plus she played Tracy Flick in Election, so she can’t be that much of a goody two shoes.  Check that one out on DVD if you haven’t seen it, especially if you’re a fan of black comedy.

I was curious about her latest movie, an entrant into the relatively unique action rom-com genre.  If you don’t know what an action romantic comedy is, think Mr. & Mrs. Smith.   I digress.  Witherspoon (Water for Elephants) stars alongside Chris Pine (Unstoppable) and Tom Hardy (Warrior) in This Means War, a spy vs. spy movie that ended up being pretty entertaining.  Best friends Tuck and FDR are CIA agents who discover that they are casually dating the same woman; a cute thirty-something named Lauren who is none the wiser.  Being the competitive chaps that they are, Tuck and FDR refuse to back off and defer to each other.  They lay down some ground rules, and the game is on.   As secret agents they bring all of their espionage talents to bear, complete with high-tech gadgetry.  Unbeknownst to their boss (played by the wonderful Angela Bassett), they use Agency resources to take cock blocking to unprecedented levels, complete with surveillance and wiretaps.  Lauren genuinely is interested in both guys for different reasons.  Tuck is nice, humble and sweet, while FDR is brash and cocky.  Advising Lauren every step of the way is her sister Trish, played by the hilarious Chelsea Handler in her big screen debut.

Witherspoon’s character was relatable and endearing.  Lauren needed to be capable of making two guys battle each other tooth and nail for a shot with her.  Considering that most men hate to lose, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea.  Tom Hardy continues to impress me with the wide range of roles he accepts.  He’s quite versatile, capable of being both a romantic leading man and a diabolical villain (check him out in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises).  Chris Pine doesn’t really do it for me, but I understood his character’s appeal.  Everyone had good chemistry with each other, both comedic and romantic (not the two guys, obviously).  The movie doesn’t sacrifice Tuck and FDR’s friendship either, supporting the old adage of bros before garden tools.  To sum it up, this was a great date movie.  It has a little something for men and women alike.  Grade: B