Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

★★

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Release Date: March 22nd, 2013 (US); April 17th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Action; Thriller

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott

As far as attacks on the White House go, Olympus Has Fallen trudges its way across the vast lawn with a disappointingly uninspired plod. Bluntly, it’s a film that just doesn’t get much right. Antoine Fuqua’s take on the internal threat to homeland and presidential security saga struggles in areas where it should thrive — notably notions of simplicity — before subsequently becoming entangled in a tonal muddle as it oddly tries to venture into the faux-documentary realm without any conviction. The latter, coupled alongside some shoddy looking CGI attempts, creates a distinctly undesirable televisual shimmer; for $70 million it all feels slightly cheap. Without the macho zest of Gerard Butler, this may very well have been a complete disaster.

The walking embodiment of a tragic evening in the life of both men, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has been removed from Presidential protection duties as the mere sight of him rekindles harrowing memories in the fraught mind of President Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Now chained to a desk job in an office only a few blocks from the White House, the hardy soul is again summoned to defend nation and state as a result of terrorist infiltration. With the Leader of the Free World at the mercy of North Korean guerrilla forces and the very real prospect of US nuclear destruction on the table, Mike sees a chance not to simply become a hero — that’s not enough — but at redemption.

Sounds reasonably straightforward, right? The age-old tale of man (or woman), pride and mind wounded, given the opportunity to reclaim fortitude and settle a previous score. Mike Banning’s journey epitomises this narrative. Heck, he even has the inherently restorative wife in his corner (she’s a nurse); their relationship strained by past decisions and Mike’s resultant self-serving of personal blame when there really isn’t any to be gobbled. Adhering to a well-versed formula is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the adherence is sincere and peppered with an occasional murmuring of intuition. Only, you’re more likely to find a needle in haystack than intuition around these parts.

On one hand, the simplicity is executed sloppily, furnishing a sense of genericism over what could’ve been enjoyable modesty. Visual discrepancies bear the brunt of detriment here — the opening act is hampered by a flow of images that closer resemble the presentation of a video game than a Hollywood film. Later, drones waver around the sky without appearing fully embedded in the landscape, hinting at some sort of blending issue. The graphical inadequacies do sort themselves out when the action slows down and digital enhancement is dumped for more conventional techniques. Yet on the other hand, director Antoine Fuqua unveils vague ramblings of a documentary-style aesthetic. We often watch as labels appear inconspicuously beside characters on screen, each textual nugget informing us of the individual’s name and occupation. It chimes as an attempt to induce a sense of realism or to imply a degree of truth (because not much else is believable), but instead feels lazy. Boasting a portfolio of films including the likes of Training Day, Fuqua is evidently better than this.

Narratively, we don’t get off on the best foot. Driving in blizzard conditions as horrendous as those depicted in the opening act hints at senselessness, particularly given the President of the United States is a passenger. Instantly there arises a lingering anxiety that this will only be the first in a long line of foolish happenings and, true to form, shortly thereafter a conveyor belt of outrageous decision-making is set in motion (at one point the order is given to shoot down aircraft over a busy Washington DC). Nonsense often generates humour, but in a film that preposterously takes itself far too seriously nonsense wholly reduces any semblance of sympathy for the characters on-screen, which is a pretty significant problem given the horrendous predicament that many find themselves in.

A severe tonal struggle exists between the intended air of sobriety and seriousness, and a plot that reeks retro strands: North Korean bad guys, invading and controlling, targeting the President and threatening nuclear catastrophe. It’s a throwback and, to a degree, a fairly camp one. Unsurprisingly, a clear victor fails to emerge between the pair of duelling tones, as the serious ploy comes across as slightly over-egged and the nostalgic effect only exists in principle. As a result the film is devoid of both tension and giggles, unless you get a kick out of lines such as, “They’ve taken the White House!” (a greater helping of which certainly would not have negatively impacted proceedings.)

Performances are almost universally uninspired, with the exception of Gerard Butler’s effort. As Mike Banning, Butler manages to inject a small helping of gusto whenever he is present on-screen and also during breaks from under-his-breath muttering. The role is ultimately one-dimensional but that’s no more than required, fuelling the simplicity fire. It’s also a dimension more than most of the other deliveries. As President Asher, Aaron Eckhart has very little to do other than conjure the occasional grimace which, incidentally, looks the same irrespective of whether or not he’s missing out on ice-cream or being held hostage by terrorists. Perhaps the most problematic character is Dylan McDermott’s Secret Service agent Dave Forbes whose moral dynamic flip-flops around more than a fish out of water. Female persons are inexcusably shunted to background; the likes of Radha Mitchell, Ashley Judd and Melissa Leo are less than secondary factors. Morgan Freeman ought to get back to be being God.

Olympus Has Fallen unfortunately stumbles and falls from the get-go, struggling to regain any semblance of steady-footedness thenceforth. A decent Gerard Butler performance cannot prevent the inevitable stern wave of unnecessarily harsh undertones from washing away any potential puddles of fun. It’s not great.

The Campaign (2012)

★★

Director: Jay Roach

Release Date: August 10th, 2012 (US); September 28th, 2012 (UK)

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis

Released in the midst of the 2012 Presidential Election in the United States, The Campaign struggles to reach the lofty heights set by Jay Roach’s previous work. More often than not the jokes are without any real substance and by the time the credits finish rolling, the film has cemented its place as a forgettable one.

The Campaign follows the naive Marty Huggins’ introduction into politics as he is propelled into the normally competition-scarce race for election in North Carolina’s 14th District. His opponent, Cam Brady, has spent the previous four terms as congressman of the district due to nobody running against him. However, two corrupt businessman use Brady’s involvement in an indecent incident to install Huggins into the race, with their motives less than noble and their focus solely on using Huggins to strike a profit-blazing deal with a Chinese company.

The film is at its best and funniest when it gets the political satire elements right (pointing out how far politicians will go to expose each other, for example), but too often these attempts fall flat and instead come across more like parody sketches on politics. When the events begin to enter the parody realm, the film veers dangerously close to Meet The Spartans and Epic Movie territory (although not quite as bad as either of those). This is unfortunate as the few times the writing does work the film is very funny, particularly with the added bonus of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who are fully versed in successfully delivering humour with the correct material put before them.

Another problem The Campaign encounters is that there is no clear character to root for (perhaps this an intentional attempt to mirror real life election battles). From the get-go it is clear that the villain of the piece is intended to be Cam Brady (Ferrell’s character). Brady comes across as a cocky, chauvinistic jerk, and Ferrell plays the role to a T. With the introduction of Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins, it is clear that the simple tourism director is set to be the sympathetic character. Brady is obnoxious, often degrading Huggins and taking advantage of the political newcomer’s nativity. However, the film does not even reach the half-way mark before the roles begin to reverse and Brady becomes the brunt of all of the jokes. The influential businessmen we see at the beginning of the film are clearly the puppeteers who are in need some sort of comeuppance, but they do not appear on-screen often enough to develop their nastiness and be paraded as the bad guys — must the audience rely on what they know from previous films of similar ilk to decipher who is playing what role? The Campaign sorts itself out in the end, but by then it is too late as the two main characters are not really worth caring about.

It is not all bad news though. As mentioned beforehand, Roach and the writers — Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell — do hit the correct notes on a number of occasions and the film does conjure up a couple of genuinely humorous moments. Ferrell and Galifianakis play off of each other well enough, but neither really seem to be completely committed 100 percent to the cause. In fact, Ferrell’s Brady holds a number of similar characteristics to those of his much-loved Anchorman character, Ron Burgundy. However the difference between the two is clear — Burgundy is given both the time and the correct narrative to evolve and become something more than just an egotistical news anchor, whereas Brady must suffice with punching babies and being a horrible father. Galifianakis is essentially playing the same role he has played since starring in The Hangover. It is not that the role is not funny, rather it is just not funny the fifth time around.

The Campaign suffers from one or two glaring problems, namely a weak script and non-existent character roles. Nothing really sticks out: the performances are nothing special, the laughs are few and far between and story is over-played and without inspiration. With that being said, Roach, Henchy and Harwell do get the balance of discreet-yet-understandable humour correct on a few occasions and the film is better for it. Perhaps Roach should have cast Rick Santorum in the role of Marty Huggins — at least then there would have been a consistent cause for laughter.

Credit: Telstar Media
Credit: Telstar Media