"Let's play a game of F**k Off. You go first..."
That cracking throwaway line, delivered with zeal by Gerard Butler's brawny hero to the mandatory North Korean baddie, exemplifies the heights occasionally obtained in this reasonably diverting thriller. It lacks the consistency and flair to live up to its attempted 'Die Hard in the White House' premise, for the most part feeling like an extended, bigger budgeted episode of 24 that runs out of ideas before the ticking clock and end credits.
Butler is at his quick-quipping, buttkicking best though, playing U.S. Army Ranger Mike Banning. Demoted from the Presidential Detail and consigned to a desk job after failing to save the First Lady (Ashley Judd) from dying in a car crash, Banning is loaded with guilt - especially as he was a close friend to President Asher (Aaron Eckhart). From that previous sentence alone, you can figure out 85% of the tale of redemption that follows, for the rusty cogs that turn the plot wheels are jarringly audible throughout.
Using his guile and knowledge of the building, Banning is the typical lone operative whose shoulders the fate of America rests upon, for the bad guys plan to activate the nation's missile system.
He romps around the corridors bashing people up, while in audio contact with a room of fairly nondescript government types played by a heavyweight - but wasted - supporting cast of Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster.
A woefully underwhelming climax, featuring the inevitable bloody showdown, resoundingly fails to capitalise on the tension and thrills managed beforehand. It involves a few punches and an abundance of nauseating, flag-waving patriotism drenched in an overwrought score that necessitates a sick bag being in close proximity.
Antoine Fuqua's direction is fluid and the action sequences are well conveyed and full of clarity, as opposed to the terrible 'shakycam' tendencies that are becoming the norm in this genre. The initial terrorist attack on the White House is charged with visceral power and clinically establishes the premise, although the symbolic slow-motion shots of an American flag being strewn with bullets are groan-inducing and Zack Snyderesque. The CGI is also strikingly sub-par for a mainstream Hollywood movie.
The movie's best moments belong to Gerard Butler though, thriving in a role that's perfect for his capabilities as he establishes a hero we can't help but root for. Wisecracking and neckbreaking are the order of the day rather than emoting, especially as the token interaction with his wife (Radha Mitchell) is utterly pointless. Rick Yune also provides sufficient menace as the chief villain, while Aaron Eckhart clenches his jaw and channels the humanitarian decency of Bill Pullman's Independence Day President.
The plot is by the numbers and the payoff is unsatisfying, but Olympus Has Fallen packs in enough escapist action and intrigue to ensure a reasonably entertaining trip to the cinema. Plus there's that immortal 'F**k Off' line...